BART and its two biggest labor unions met Thursday to try to resolve a dispute over a contract provision that calls for employees to receive up to six weeks of paid family medical leave annually. Stephanie Chuang reports.
It’s the last thing Bay Area commuters wanted to hear: BART management and its two biggest unions back at the bargaining table again after what one side is calling a mistake.
At issue is a provision referred to as “4.8” that would give BART union workers six weeks of paid family medical leave. Luna Salaver, a BART spokesperson, said that provision would cost the district anywhere from $1.45 to $44 million for the duration of the four-year contract.
“Quite frankly, BART cannot afford to pay the employees six weeks for family medical leave, so we’re hoping we could resolve this dispute within the next two days,” Salaver said. “And then the Bay Area can have BART labor peace for the next four years and employees can start getting the benefits of this new contract.”
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According to BART, the unions brought up the new language of the provision May 30, two weeks after bargaining began. On June 5, the unions withdrew the proposal of the provision, which was formally rejected by BART within the same week – twice.
Salaver said June 24th was the last time the provision was brought up, and that was by the management’s chief negotiator, Tom Hock, who reaffirmed the withdrawal.
Fast-forward four months: Good news came with the two sides reaching a tentative agreement. However, just two weeks after that, on November 4, BART said its board caught the erroneous inclusion of the provision and immediately initiated contact with the unions.
The question is how the provision ended up in the contract that was given to the unions in the first place. Salaver said it was a temporary employee tasked with drafting the tentative agreement who misread notes by the management team, and instead of sticking with the original district language for the family medical leave provision, used the unions’ language.
Union leaders called BART’s explanation a misleading one.
“If I sign an agreement my word is my bond, then we have to live with that,” said Antonette Bryant, president of ATU 1555. “They signed an agreement, they have attorneys that reviewed it. That was not a mistake.”
BART riders who spoke with NBC Bay Area said, if management didn’t catch what BART considers a mistake, someone should be disciplined or even terminated.
“Somebody’s supposed to proofread this stuff, and professionals are in charge, so to blame it on a poor temp is a sorry excuse in my opinion,” said BART rider Celso Ortiz, of Danville.
“How do you miss that? That’s what you get paid for, and get paid big bucks to do that,” added Cynthia Grisez, who rides BART every day. “I feel all those people all the way down need to go.”
Still, Grisez said that doesn’t mean BART and especially not its riders should have to pay for the medical leave.
“I don’t think they deserve it at all. Do we get that as people who work out here? No, we don’t.”
Meanwhile, AFSCME 3993, BART’s third and smallest union, which represents roughly 215 members who work as train controllers and in other professional roles, ratified its contract on December 4. Melissa Miller, a union spokesperson, said AFSCME 3993 had never introduced the new language for the six weeks of paid family medical leave. The BART board is set to approve the contract December 19th.
The talks involving a federal mediator helping BART management and the two other unions, ATU 1555 and SEIU Local 1021, are set to resume Friday morning at BART headquarters in Oakland.