NBC Bay Area, November 21, 2013
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit's board members voted 8-1 on Thursday to approve contracts for its union employees -- but left out a controversial family medical provision that they say was included in the first version by accident.
The two unions, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, were not happy with the BART directors' vote. Now, the issue goes back to them –– and their lawyers –– to consider whether they will approve the new contract without the clause.
"They took the cowardly way out," SEIU president John Arantes told NBC Bay Area.
"I find it stunning," Josie Mooney, an SEIU negotiator added. "We are stunned this is their response."
For its part, BART's board president, Tom Radulovich, issued a statement following the vote to "accept the $67 million offer that was agreed to at the bargaining table with our unions."
He stated that he hoped the "unions will take the agreement minus the six weeks of additional paid leave that was mistakenly included in the final document, back to their members."
"Simply put, the district cannot afford to give its employees another six weeks of paid leave, on top of the generous leave already allowed in the BART employee benefit package," he said.
The six weeks of paid family leave is the latest sticking point in an already thorny and contentious battle over BART salaries.
After a second BART union strike for four days in October that ended with a tentative agreement on Nov. 1, BART claimed it did not agree to a Family Medical Leave Act provision in the deal. That deal would have given workers six weeks of paid annual leave to care for sick family members. Before, workers had to use sick leave and vacation time first.
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.
"Somebody needs to step up to the plate and own the mistake," Bryant said after Thursday's vote. "They signed an agreement. It is deeply disappointing they have decided to piecemeal."
Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley's Labor Center, calls the board's move astonishing and said it may be unprecedented.
"To accept it all but one provision and I've never seen such a thing," Jacobs said. "I think we'll be hearing a lot from lawyers in the coming days what they can do and what will happen from here."