BART, unions heading back to drawing board

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. ExaminerA broken section of rail that led to major BART delays could be from a batch of bad rail

Ill will, finger-pointing — and no contract.

BART and its unions return to familiar territory Thursday: back where they started April 1, at the negotiation table with a federal mediator and trying to come to terms on a labor contract.

Thursday’s talks, which could begin as early as 10 a.m. at BART headquarters in Oakland, are the first formal negotiations between the two sides since a disputed provision allowing workers paid medical leave was removed by BART’s board of directors Nov. 21.

That move, which the unions claimed was “illegal,” spurred a lawsuit filed last week. In addition, a complaint filed with state Attorney General Kamala Harris, alleging a BART director illegally had on-duty police provide security at a campaign event, was filed on Tuesday.

BART officials, who have asked union officials to have members vote on the contract sans the medical leave but have been rebuffed, say an agreement can be reached “with or without a pending lawsuit.”

“It doesn’t have an impact on our willingness and ability to get a contract into place,” said agency spokeswoman Alicia Trost.

BART’s annual spending on labor is projected to increase from $401 million a year to $468 million.

The disputed provision to allow workers to take up to six weeks’ paid time off to deal with a serious illness or a pregnancy would cost the agency up to $10 million a year, BART says. The unions say it would cost far less, perhaps $10 million total over four years.

In the lawsuit, union officials allege the transit agency’s management and elected board of directors broke state labor law when they voted Nov. 21 to remove medical leave language from the tentative agreement that ended the second strike in October.

BART officials have maintained that the provision — which went unnoticed by BART until after the agency’s two largest unions ratified the agreement — was included in error and have asked union leaders to remove it. Union leaders refused.

A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Dec. 23. In the meantime, the complaint filed with Harris originated when a group of union workers picketed a campaign event for BART Director Robert Raburn in Oakland.

In response to unspecified “threats,” a pair of on-duty, plainclothes BART cops showed up to the event to provide security, which union officials claim constitutes a “misuse of public funds.”

All that bad blood could spill over into Thursday’s talks.

“A lot of things have happened to make this difficult,” said Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents train operators and station agents. “By no means are we letting bygones be bygones.”

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