BART Says Paid Family Leave for Employees Is In Dispute

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    BART management officials said Friday that a last-minute glitch that could threaten approval of the transit agency's tentative agreement with its labor unions involves a paid family medical leave benefit that they have repeatedly rejected.

    Management said in a statement that it never agreed to a union proposal about paid family medical leave and in fact rejected it verbally "many times" during six months of bargaining and in writing on June 6 and June 11.

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    However, BART officials said the union proposal was included in a stack of tentative agreements and "was signed in error" by the transit agency in July.

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    Management said the error was recently caught by staff members in preparation for a BART board of directors meeting next Thursday, when directors are scheduled to vote on the full tentative agreement, which was reached on Oct. 21 and ended a strike by employees.

    Members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 have both voted by overwhelming margins to approve the tentative agreement.

    Addressing the question of why the error occurred, BART management said, "Mistakes happen in the business world and in life every day. That is not an excuse - it is just a fact."

    BART officials said, "In a professional environment, honest
    misunderstandings occur. Parties then get back together and resolve the differences."

    For example, the transit agency said it tore up a signed tentative agreement with another bargaining unit that included an error in its favor "because both sides acknowledged the mistake."

    Management said the matter "will be fully vetted" before the board votes on the agreement.

    BART officials said the tentative agreement contains a $67 million contract proposal that includes a combination of agreements on wage increases, employee contributions to their health care and pension benefits and work rule changes they believe will make the district run more
    efficiently.

    Management said the paid family medical leave provision increases the cost of the contract package and must be considered by the board before it votes next Thursday. Cost estimates are expected to be complete before then, it said.

    Under the current family leave policy, BART workers get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave when they need to care for a sick child, spouse or parent, management said.

    BART officials said employees use vacation, sick time or floating holidays to pay for the time that they are away from work.

    However, they said the disputed proposal would require the district to provide additional paid leave for six of the 12 weeks allowed for family medical leave.

    Management will brief board members on the issue at a special closed meeting at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Oakland.

    BART officials said they won't recommend that board members reject the agreement today and said it's "premature" to discuss the possibility of another strike if the family medical leave issue isn't resolved.

    ATU Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant alleged Thursday night that BART management "is now attempting to go back on agreements it made in July and August that were part of the final deal.

    "This is unconscionable," Bryant said.

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