Friday, November 15, 2013 9:33 pm
BART focuses on new problem with labor contract
By TERRY COLLINS and CHANNING JOSEPHAssociated Press
BART officials said the special closed-door session will be more of a fact-finding meeting regarding a family medical leave provision that BART says was "inadvertently" included in the final agreement and signed off by transit and union negotiators last month.
After six months of agonizing negotiations and two strikes that caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of commuters, BART management and its two largest unions, ATU 1555 and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, agreed to a tentative deal on Oct. 21.
The disputed proposal would require the agency to provide workers additional paid leave for six of the 12 weeks allowed under the Family Medical Leave Act that could cost "tens of millions of dollars," BART spokesman Jim Allison said Friday. Prior contract language required workers to use sick leave and vacation time first.
"This is certainly something that has all of our attention because the financial impact could be worth tens of millions of dollars over the life of the contract," Allison said.
But Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant said the language in the contract was not inadvertent and that the deal is valid. She said the parties signed off in July on the medical leave provision that was executed in August.
"An agreement is an agreement. BART has buyers' remorse," Bryant said Friday. "Now that we have a deal, BART managers think they made a mistake, but they could have and should have identified that long before 2,300 union members voted on the new contract.
"We feel that this is a valid contract," Bryant concluded.
The board is expected to vote on the deal on Nov. 21. If the board votes down the contract, the unions may consider going on strike for the third time in three months.
A BART attorney notified the unions in an email on Nov. 7 that a provision on medical leave was signed by the agency in "error."
"I had assumed that you would recognize this for the error that it clearly is," BART counsel Vicki Nuetzel (cq) wrote. "As I have stated, given the Union's positions, (Management) cannot ratify the contract.
"It is most unfortunate that the efforts made by all parties to reach what we believed to be a fair resolution will be wasted, but there is no choice."
Board Director James Fang called the error unfortunate.
"We're going to discuss the options and one of them is to not to approve the contract," Fang said Thursday. Fang said BART management had known about the issue since last week after conducting a final review of the deal, but that board members didn't find out until Tuesday.
BART remains optimistic that a deal can be ratified, Allison, BART's spokesman, said Friday.
"Certainly, we don't want another strike," he said. "We are hopeful that as reasonable parties we can work this out."