‘Error’ could halt BART agreement

Alex Leber/S.F. Examiner file photoBART Director Joe Keller has proposed a ballot measure to ban BART strikes.

BART management made an “error” in signing off on the agreement between the transit agency and its unions that ended last month’s strike, according to an agency official, a foul-up that could lead to a third paralyzing Bay Area transit strike.

Following strikes in the summer and the fall, a deal between the Bay Area’s most crucial public transportation network and its two major unions — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — finally seemed in place earlier this month.

But on Nov. 7, a BART attorney informed union officials that a provision on medical leave was signed by BART “in error,” and that BART “cannot ratify the contract.”

Under a proposal agreed to in July — and in contract language overwhelmingly approved by workers Nov 1. –– workers could receive up to six weeks’ paid absence to deal with a serious family medical emergency.

Such leave is something BART “would never have agreed to,” BART counsel Vicki Nuetzel wrote in the Nov. 7 email.

“How or Why [sic] a TA [tentative agreement] was prepared I do not know — it was generated by the unions and signed by the district in error,” Nuetzel wrote. “[G]iven the unions’ positions the district cannot ratify the contract.

“It is most unfortunate that the efforts made by all parties to reach what we believed to be a fair resolution will be wasted but there is no choice.”

BART’s Board of Directors was scheduled to ratify the four-year labor contract on Nov. 21. The board will meet today in closed session to discuss this latest revelation.

Union officials reacted to the news with disbelief Thursday. “They took five days to say, ‘We made a mistake?’ Really? Come on,” said ATU president Antonette Bryant. “We made an agreement with the district [on family medical leave] in July — they signed off on it. And now we expect the board to ratify this agreement.”

The “error” is the latest twist in a long and bitter labor struggle that began in April. It ended last month following the on-track deaths of a nonstriking BART worker and a contractor who were struck by a train operated by a management employee.

“This could shut down the Bay Area again,” said Chris Daly, SEIU’s political director.

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