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BART, Unions Reach Deal in Contract Dispute

| December 21, 2013
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North Berkeley BART station on the eve of October strike (Dan Brekke/KQED).

North Berkeley BART station on the eve of October strike (Dan Brekke/KQED).


BART and its two biggest unions, locked for the better part of a year in a contract battle that twice led workers to strike, say they’ve settled their differences over a disputed family-leave provision in their recently negotiated agreement.

The provision would have granted union members six weeks of paid family leave, a change from the previous policy, which required workers to use up all their accumulated vacation and sick time before getting paid leave. BART said the clause was included in the contract by mistake and would cost the district between $5.6 million and $44 million over the four years of the new labor agreement, depending on how many workers used the federally mandated leave. The BART board of directors refused to approve the provision, even though it had been signed by senior management officials and ratified by the unions. That prompted the two unions involved, the BART chapter of SEIU Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, to sue the district.

In the agreement announced today, the disputed provision for six weeks of paid family leave has been removed from the contract. Instead, workers will get more flexibility in how they use vacation, sick days or comp time when they take family leave. The district’s bereavement leave policy will also be expanded to include time off in the event of the death of a grandchild or step-parent of a spouse or domestic partner. The deal also includes a district agreement to build new break facilities at Daly City, Millbrae and West Oakland.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican will submit the final contract to the BART board. If the board approves the agreement, the unions will vote on the pact.

Both sides issued statements early Saturday that seemed to acknowledge the public discontent with the continuing contract dispute, which shut down the system for four days in July and four more in October. BART carries about 200,000 people on weekdays, and the system’s two strikes caused jams on Bay Area freeways, burdened other transit agencies. The contract dispute and its aftermath led to widespread public criticism over relatively high union pay and BART management’s handling of the family leave provision.

“After eight months of uncertainty for our riders,” Crunican said in the BART statement, “this deal will guarantee that every ounce of the Agency’s focus will be directed to providing great service to the Bay Area during the peak holiday period and beyond.” John Arantes, president of the SEIU 1021 BART chapter, called today’s agreement “a fair resolution that would close months of drawn out contract talks and — in the interest of the riding public — end the uncertainty caused by the board’s removal of a section from our final, complete contract.”

Not all the fallout from this year’s labor dispute has settled.

Joel Keller, who took over as president of the BART Board of Directors this week, says he wants to hold a referendum on whether the agency’s union employees should be allowed to strike. That vote would be advisory only — the state Legislature would have to enact any changes in the workers’ collective-bargaining status — but Keller’s suggestion immediately drew angry denunciations from union officials.

Below are the statements from BART and from SEIU Local 1021, followed by the signed agreements the two sides announced today:

From BART:

BART General Manager Grace Crunican announced that all contract issues have been settled between BART and its two largest labor Unions. She will recommend the ratification of a final collective bargaining agreement with SEIU Local 1021 and ATU Local 1555 to the BART Board of Directors as soon as possible.

The last remaining contract difference was resolved with solutions that are administrative in nature and/or will be covered within BART’s existing budget.

“After eight months of uncertainty for our riders, this deal will guarantee that every ounce of the Agency’s focus will be directed to providing great service to the Bay Area during the peak holiday period and beyond,” said Crunican.

BART and its Unions have spent the last month working to resolve a disputed tentative agreement which would have added weeks of additional paid leave time to BART employees. The issue was resolved with a series of agreements that 1) expands the District’s Bereavement Leave policy to allow workers paid time off in the event of the death of a grandchild or step-parent of a spouse or domestic partner, 2) upgrades employee break rooms at the Daly City, Millbrae and West Oakland BART stations, to be paid for through the District’s already funded station modernization program, 3) allows qualifying employees more flexibility in how they pay for the costs of their family medical leave, plus additional administrative changes to the contract.

Today BART’s largest unions, SEIU 1021 and ATU 1555, reached a tentative agreement with BART’s Management’s negotiators on a disputed contract provision on paid family medical leave.

From the SEIU:

“Today we’re proud to announce that we’ve reached a resolution that we can bring back to our members for a vote,” said SEIU 1021 BART Chapter President John Arantes. “It’s a fair resolution that would close months of drawn out contract talks and—in the interest of the riding public—end the uncertainty caused by the Board’s removal of a section from our final, complete contract.”

“BART Management has been adamant in their admission of a mistake and how they’ve handled the situation,” Arantes continued, “and, in the past few days, we’ve had the opportunity to have meaningful discussion and resolve some of our differences at the bargaining table. We’d like to thank Greg Lim, from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, who returned to provide valuable assistance.”

“Our ability to address the disputed provision at the bargaining table resulted from BART Management’s negotiators sharing the unions’ commitment to bargain fairly and equitably,” said Des Patten, SEIU 1021 Professional Chapter President. “That’s the way to fix problems, and the way we hope BART Management and the BART Directors would move forward from now on, so that they can restore the lost trust from the riders and from their workers.”

After the BART Board of Directors ratify the contract, the amended version of the strike-ending agreement will be brought before SEIU 1021 and ATU 1555 members for a vote. Once ratified, the contract terms would go into effect.

On November 21st, the BART Board of Directors voted to approve a contract that did not have a provision on family medical leave, that BART’s chief negotiator Thomas Hock, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier, and Labor Relations Manager Rudy Medina bargained and signed with its unions.

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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