BART unions sue transit agency over contract

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Associated Press

Posted on December 3, 2013 at 7:04 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 3 at 7:06 PM

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit's two largest unions filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the agency, claiming its board of directors broke state law when it approved a contract without a key provision.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court less than two weeks after BART's board approved a new labor deal but stripped a Family Medical Leave Act provision that the unions and the agency's top negotiators signed off on during contentious talks to end a strike in October.

The unions say the lawsuit will not affect train service for the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail service with an average weekday ridership of 400,000, but they're asking the court to force BART to honor the full contract the parties all agreed to. The attorneys say the BART board's vote is unprecedented as it cannot "cherry-pick" which provisions it wants to honor with a "take-it-or-leave it" attitude.

BART officials say the family leave provision had been inadvertently included in the tentative contract due to an error by a temporary employee, which led the board to approve the contract, minus the provision. The transit agency said the provision could cost up to $44 million over four years if one-third of union workers take six-week leaves each year.

"BART continues to point fingers at others and is not taking responsibility for its own actions," said Kerianne Steele, SEIU 1021's attorney. "BART has never offered to us to negotiate over this supposed mistake. Instead, it has approached us by saying 'Take it out, it must come out of the total package agreement, or otherwise we will not approve the contract.'"

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Tuesday that the agency hasn't seen the lawsuit and believes it is not needed.

"This unnecessary action will only delay resolution to BART's labor contract. A lawsuit is not needed to correct a mistake," Trost said. "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," Trost added. "District negotiators would never have knowingly agreed to such a financially backbreaking proposal."

SEIU chief negotiator Josie Mooney said BART has not reached out to the unions since the board's Nov. 21 contract vote. She said the unions are willing to meet with BART management to talk about possible solutions, but not the unions voting on a new contract without the family medical leave provision.

The lawsuit is the latest episode in a bitter labor dispute that has already resulted in two strikes in July and October that snarled commutes in the region, as hundreds of thousands of BART riders turned to crowded buses, ferries and roadways as alternatives.

During the second strike, two BART workers were killed by a train operated by an employee undergoing training. The parties soon returned to the bargaining table and reached a tentative deal Oct. 21. That deal hit a snag when BART's board approved the agreement without the family medical leave provision that would provide six weeks of paid leave to care for sick family members.

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