BART Unions Sue Board Over "Illegal" Labor Contract Negotiations

By Lisa Fernandez and Cheryl Hurd
|  Tuesday, Dec 3, 2013  |  Updated 5:37 PM PDT
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BART's two largest unions filed suit on Tuesday against the agency's board of directors, claiming

BART's two largest unions filed suit on Tuesday against the agency's board of directors, claiming "illegitimate" actions regarding their labor contracts. Cheryl Hurd reports.

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BART's two largest unions filed suit on Tuesday against the agency's board of directors, claiming "illegitimate" actions regarding their labor contracts - specifically over six weeks of paid family leave that was agreed to, but not formally approved.

"The remedy is for BART to honor the agreement," SEIU Attorney Kerianne Steele said at a news conference at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse. She said the unions have not yet discussed or planned another strike, but added they are "not ruling anything out."

For BART's part, spokeswoman Alicia Trost issued this statement: “This unnecessary action will only delay resolution to BART’s labor contract. A lawsuit is not needed to correct a mistake. When mistakes are made in contract negotiations they are corrected administratively by the parties, acting in good faith. Fortunately, this mistake was caught in time before the mistaken language was brought before the district's board for ratification...District negotiators would never have knowingly agreed to such a financially backbreaking proposal."

She said BART management will look at the lawsuit "over the next several days."

The suit stems from an 8-1 vote on Nov. 21, when BART's board of directors rejected ratifying an agreement their authorized chief negotiator Thomas Hock, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier, and Labor Relations Manager Rudy Medina signed and bargained with the unions to end a contentious four-day strike in October.

The reason they refused was over a "mistake" agreed to in negotiations: To pay union workers six weeks of paid Family Leave in addition to the three to six weeks of vacation, 13 paid holidays and 12 sick daysemployees already receive annually.

After the contract was signed, BART's managment said it was "mistakenly" agreed to and that the agency couldn't pay for it.

Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley's Labor Center, previously called the board's move - rejecting something they had already agreed to, even if it was a mistake - astonishing. He said it may even be "unprecedented," a word the unions were using too on Tuesday.

How the provision was overlooked is a matter of dispute. BART staffers say they found the disputed section on Nov. 4 and notified the unions,

according to the Contra Costa Times

The unions, for their part, told the newspaper this wasn't a mistake, that the provision was agreed to in July.

BART management said the provision could cost the agency $44 million over four years if a third of union workers take six-week leaves each year.

But Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said those numbers are off. She estimated the provision would cost only $1.4 million each year.

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