November 16, 2013

SFC transit agency calls for renewed union talks

BART officials said a family medical leave provision giving its 2,300 union workers up to six weeks of paid time off each year would be too expensive.

The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — San Francisco transit officials are calling for a return to the bargaining table, saying an expensive provision was “erroneously” included in a labor contract that settled a union dispute that had caused two recent strikes.

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Bay Area Rapid Transit passengers wait for a train at Oakland, Calif. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit’s contract with its two largest unions appears to be facing uncertainty late Friday as the agency called for a return to the bargaining table, just weeks after the agreement settled a dispute that has already caused two strikes.

The Associated Press

Late Friday, the contract with San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit’s two largest unions appeared to be facing uncertainty as the agency said that it was seeking the renewed talks.

After a closed-door meeting during the afternoon to discuss the issue and review its likely costs, BART officials said a family medical leave provision giving its 2,300 union workers up to six weeks of paid time off each year would be too expensive.

On Thursday, BART officials announced that the provision had been “inadvertently” included in the agreement, which was signed off by transit and union negotiators in October. The board, which is set to vote on the contract Nov. 21, has now ordered the agency’s general manager to restart talks with representatives from the unions – Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021. A new chief negotiator is expected to be announced.

“We are not comfortable with the potential liability that could result from the adoption of this contract provision,” the board said in a statement issued Friday night. It was “never the District’s intention to include the disputed Family Medical Leave Act proposal in the contract,” it added, indicating the medical leave provision was “erroneously” included in the contract language by an unnamed temporary employee in July.

By BART’s accounting, 7.4% of its ATU and SEIU workers have taken leaves for family care, at an average of 4.3 weeks and costing about $1.4 million a year. But in its statement Friday, the agency suggested it is worried up to 33% of the union employees might take six weeks of paid leave under the new provision, costing the agency $10.5 million.

“The Board is disappointed that this error occurred and was not caught earlier,” it said.

SEIU Local 1021 Executive Director Peter Castelli said by telephone Friday that it would likely be a few days before his union made a decision on how to respond.

“We’re not ruling anything out, but we’re not inclined to go back to the bargaining table,” Castelli said.

Later, in a statement Friday night, he added: “Make no mistake, there was no confusion or glitch in the agreement. BART’s high-priced chief negotiator Thomas Hock, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier, and Labor Relations Manager Rudy Medina, signed an agreement that would allow BART workers time off to care for their family members with a serious illness.”

BART management and its two largest unions agreed to a tentative deal on Oct. 21 after six months of agonizing negotiations and two strikes that caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of commuters.

The disputed proposal would require the agency to provide workers additional paid leave for six of the 12 weeks allowed under the Family Medical Leave Act. Prior contract language required workers to use sick leave and vacation time first.

A BART attorney notified the unions in an email on Nov. 7 that a provision on medical leave was signed by the agency in “error.”

“I had assumed that you would recognize this for the error that it clearly is,” BART counsel Vicki Nuetzel wrote. “As I have stated, given the Union’s positions, (Management) cannot ratify the contract.

“It is most unfortunate that the efforts made by all parties to reach what we believed to be a fair resolution will be wasted, but there is no choice.”

Board Director James Fang called the error unfortunate.

(Continued on page 2)

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