Less than two weeks before BART workers could resume their strike, union leaders alleged today that management's chief negotiator has a long history of engaging in hardball tactics and accused him of engaging in unfair bargaining.
Roxanne Sanchez, the president of Service International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, said Thomas Hock and his company, Professional Transit Management, have been named in 47 complaints with the National Labor Relations Board since 2001 and he's been involved in negotiations that have resulted in seven transit strikes since 2005.
Speaking at a news conference outside the Caltrans building in Oakland, where contract talks have been taking place, Sanchez alleged that Hock has engaged in "surface bargaining," which she said is a technique designed not to make progress and to create a public backlash against BART workers.
Sanchez also alleged that Hock is unavailable for 10 of the 14 days remaining before the contract for BART employees expires on Aug. 4 and called for BART General Manager Grace Crunican or another top executive to come to the bargaining table to try to reach an agreement.
However, Crunican said she still supports Hock because "he's a great negotiator who has settled a lot of contracts."
She said Hock has negotiated more than 400 labor contracts since 1972 and in that time only two unfair labor practice charges alleging bad faith bargaining have been filed against him.
Crunican said one of those complaints was withdrawn by the union that filed it and in the second case there was no finding of bad faith bargaining.
Crunican also alleged that SEIU negotiators haven't been at the bargaining table "40 percent of the time" since contract talks began on April 1.
The general manager said she's not at the bargaining table every day but she's fully informed about the talks and is available at all times.
Members of SEIU Local 1021 and members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, went on strike on July 1 but late on July 4 they agreed to extend their previous contract for 30 days, until Aug. 4, and return to work the afternoon of July 5.
The four-and-a-half day strike clogged local highways and caused commuting headaches for Bay Area residents.
BART management said state mediators who brokered the 30-day contract extension were informed that Hock wouldn't be available from July 24 to July 28 and agreed there would still be ample time to negotiate a contract.
The key issues in the contract talks are wages, employee contributions for health care and retirement costs, and safety.
Among those who joined Sanchez in criticizing Hock were Josie Mooney, one of SEIU Local 1021's lead negotiators, and ATU Local 1555 spokesman Leo Ruiz.
Sanchez said "there's still a huge divide between the parties and very serious differences at this late date."
But Crunican was more hopeful that a settlement can still be reached, saying, "There are still two weeks to go and that's a good amount of time."
She said, "We're here to get a settlement."