BART workers allege 'unfair labor practices' in lawsuit

An end to BART's eight-month labor odyssey could come in the courtroom, after the transit agency's two biggest unions filed suit Tuesday against management and the elected BART Board of Directors alleging unfair labor practices.

The lawsuit is the union response to the Board of Directors' “alteration” Nov. 21 of the tentative contract agreement approved by union rank and file over a month ago.

The deal that ended October's four-day BART strike included a provision, inserted into the $67 million contract in July, allowing employees up to six weeks' paid leave for medical emergencies.

Following the deal's approval by Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 on Nov. 1, attorneys for BART informed labor leaders that the paid leave provision was included “in error.”

On Nov. 21, BART's elected Board of Directors voted 8 to 1 to remove the paid leave provision from the contract agreement, the latest in a series of “illegal” unfair labor practices committed by BART during the ugly and contentious labor negotiations this year, according to the lawsuit.

While no BART labor deal is final until it is ratified by the Board, “the ratification process is not an opportunity for the Board to cherry-pick portions of a new contract that it likes and discard the others,” SEIU 1021 attorney Kerianne Steele staid in a statement.

BART management insists that the paid leave provision was included by “mistake.” Allowing it to remain could cost up to $10 million per year, which would make BART's labor expenses – projected to increase to $468 million a year by 2017 – “unsustainable.”

In a statement Tuesday, BART management said that the lawsuit will only “delay resolution to BART's labor contract.”

“A lawsuit is not needed to correct a mistake,” said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost, who added that the transit agency is reviewing the suit.

The suit alleges violations of California labor law for BART's unwillingness to negotiate on health and safety provisions, for failing to give the unions information during bargaining, and for not abiding by the terms of the contract.

Neither BART nor the unions could say Tuesday when the lawsuit would come before a judge.

No strike is in the works for now, although labor leaders indicated they are keeping “all options” available.

Meanwhile, BART service continues with employees working under the terms of the 2009 labor agreement, which expired June 30.

The suit may also spell trouble at the ballot box for BART's Board of Directors, four of whom will stand for re-election next fall.

Bay Area labor leaders, including the influential San Francisco Labor Council, joined BART union honchos in denouncing the Board's move to “unilaterally” amend the contract.

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