BART unions explore potential lawsuit in contract debate

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesCommuters board a BART train.

BART’s two major unions are “actively pursuing” possible legal action against the transit agency and could file a lawsuit as early as this week, sources say.

Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 have been meeting to discuss a course of action since BART’s board of directors voted 8-1 on Nov. 21 to remove a family medical leave provision from the contract, said Chris Daly, SEIU’s political director.

“Not on [Monday] — we are not that close to be able to file — but this week,” he told The San Francisco Examiner on Sunday of the intended legal challenge. “The decision on exactly what the language and type of lawsuit will be has not been made.”

Daly declined to comment on the possible details of the lawsuit, other than, “Attorneys have had a lot of conversation about what is at stake and what our best possible remedies are.”

Other than litigation — which has not been determined as the definite avenue — a number of possibilities exist, including the third strike of 2013. Union leaders have not ruled out the possibility that BART could come back with a “fair deal.”

The provision allowing workers six weeks of paid medical emergency leave that was included in “error” could cost up to $10.5 million if double the employees who took unpaid leave in the past year took the paid leave, according to the transit agency. BART’s $401 million annual labor cost could increase to $468 million by 2017 under the new contract, management said.

“A strike is always a last resort,” Daly said. “We didn’t want a strike the last two times and we did it, and we don’t want a strike now.”

There is no deadline for unions to act. That means continued limbo for hundreds of thousands of riders.

“For riders, there’s a significant question about the competence of those who are running BART,” Daly said. “BART’s workers pride themselves in delivering service and taking people where they need to go. That’s what we want to try and keep doing.”

BART officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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