BART officials might reconsider labor contract

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Bay Area Rapid Transit officials are planning a special meeting where officials say they may discuss the possibility of rejecting a labor contract that had recently settled a transit dispute.

After six months of agonizing negotiations and two strikes that caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of commuters, BART accepted a contract in October which contains a provision that officials say they disagree with.

BART management said Thursday that the provision it never agreed to was somehow "inadvertently" included in the final agreement and signed off on by both transit and union officials.

Agency and union officials said management is considering recommending that BART's board of directors reject the contract that the agency signed with unions.

Board Director James Fang confirmed Thursday that the sticking point is family medical leave, which allows workers to take time off to care for a family member with a serious illness. The new contract would give 3,200 BART workers six weeks of paid leave each year, while prior language required workers to use sick leave and vacation time first.

"It's very unfortunate," Fang said, adding: "We're going to discuss the options and one of them is to not to approve the contract."

When management pointed out the provision, the unions said they would not withdraw the provision since the contract had already been signed.

The board has called for a special meeting Friday at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the tentative agreements that are part of the labor contract. It is scheduled to vote on Nov. 21.

Fang said the management has known about the issue since last Friday but that board members didn't find out until Tuesday.

They were originally supposed to approve the contract Wednesday, he said, but management canceled the meeting without explanation, saying only that there was "some technical issue."

If the board votes down the contract, BART's two largest unions — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 — may consider going on strike for the third time in three months.

In a statement released Thursday, BART said it was "is currently costing out the impact of the provision" and would factor that cost into its decision whether to ratify the deal.

ATU Local 1021 President Antonette Bryant said Thursday in a telephone interview that BART management is recommending that the board turn down the current agreement. She called it "unconscionable."

"I'm pretty disappointed in them," she said, arguing that the presence of the contract language was not "inadvertent."

"BART management is now attempting to go back on agreements it made in July and August and that were part of the final deal," she said.

BART officials first signed off on the family medical leave clause in July, she added.

"We feel that this is a valid contract," Bryant said, "and we expected the board would ratify it."