Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesA BART passenger boards a train on October 15

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesA BART passenger boards a train on October 15

$399,000 BART deal angers union groups

BART’s hiring of an outside consultant for nearly $400,000 to lead its latest set of contract negotiations has its two biggest unions decrying the move as being disruptive and carried out in bad faith.

In October, BART approved a $99,000 pact with Thomas Hock of Veolia Transportation Services to engage in labor talks with its five unions, whose contracts are set to expire June 30. The contract was just below the $100,000 threshold that would have required approval by the BART board of directors.

On April 11, the agency recommended amending the contract with an extra $300,000 for a total of $399,000. The increase was quietly passed by the board. Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — a group that represents station agents and train operators, and is in talks with BART — said the contract was deliberately held below $100,000 to stymie oversight of the plan.

“Splitting the contract helped BART evade public review,” Bryant said. “We feel this was clearly designed to mislead the public of these excessive costs.”

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the contract was amended because Hock was originally only supposed to be a consultant, but as the talks began to take shape, it became clear that he would need to be the chief negotiator with

ATU Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union 1021, another large group that represents electricians and maintenance workers, among other employees. BART’s own labor relations teams will head talks with the other three unions.

Hock took part in the 2001 negotiations between BART and its unions, and over the past five years he has helped oversee the ratification of 50 collective bargaining agreements, Trost said.

“Mr. Hock is a very experienced professional and it’s common for agencies to hire outside consultants for major labor negotiations,” Trost said. “We think of this hire as an investment, given all that is at stake financially.”

Leah Berlanga, a spokeswoman for SEIU 1021, said Hock has a reputation for taking a union-busting approach to contract talks.

“We really seemed to be on the same page with management on solving this issue in a timely fashion, but they’ve hired an individual who is known for doing the opposite,” Berlanga said.

Berlanga also said that SEIU offered its headquarters to stage the contract talks, a move that would save BART hundreds of thousands of dollars in hotel and convention fees.

“They’re telling us how poor they are and then they go out and spend $400,000 on a consultant,” Berlanga said. “That’s completely excessive and could be better spent by investing in resources for BART customers.”

In 2009, the last time BART negotiated with its unions, the talks deteriorated to the point where strikes and work stoppages were consistently threatened. BART management eventually secured $100 million in labor
concessions.

The unions and BART have until June 30 to come up with a new pact. After establishing the framework for talks in April, bargaining will officially start this month.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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