BART, unions tussling over missed work

With employees logging an average of 40 unscheduled absences annually, reforming work rules will be a key focus for BART during ongoing labor negotiations.

BART management and its five unions, which collectively represent 3,200 workers, are engaged in contentious contract talks, with the current pact expiring June 30. However, talks so far have yielded little progress, and union groups say they are further apart now than in 2009, when a strike nearly occurred.

A focus of this year’s talks has been work rules. BART management wants to crack down on overtime and unscheduled absenteeism. According to Paul Oversier, director of operations, each worker racks up an average of 40 unscheduled absences annually. That includes sick leave, jury duty, family obligations, disability and industrial injuries.

Those absences must be filled with replacement workers collecting overtime.

BART spent $30 million on overtime last fiscal year, a 15 percent increase from the year prior. Currently, employees can miss a scheduled workday while sick, then fill in for a colleague and collect overtime on a Saturday or Sunday.

Oversier said a small number of workers routinely exploit that policy. As a result, BART wants to ensure that workers log 40 hours before collecting overtime.

Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents station agents and train operators, said she found it “a bit difficult to believe” that BART employees missed that much time per year, adding that the unscheduled absences category is overbroad considering it includes military leave and jury duty.

Bryant said BART’s hiring freeze over the past four years has led to the gaudy overtime numbers.

“It’s not our fault that mismanagement has put BART in a position where they’re forced to pay overtime,” she said.

General Manager Grace Crunican praised BART’s workforce, saying 10 percent of the workforce generates 50 percent of the unscheduled absences.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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