What BART management calls a pricey error in the recently approved deal with its unions could end up being costly for the transit system’s riders and the Bay Area, especially if any future fervid negotiations fail and lead to another strike. The transit system needs to contain the fallout from this oversight by highly paid professionals on its team instead of pushing it back onto anyone else.
The issue at stake in the labor contract is that of paid family leave. In previous contracts, workers were allowed to take up to 12 weeks off to care for a family member or for maternity or paternity leave. That time, though, came from their sick days or vacation hours. When the unions and BART went to the bargaining table earlier this year, a deal was reached to give workers up to six weeks of paid time off each year for the same type of leave.
Documents show that BART’s negotiating team signed off on the item back in July, after the first strike hit the Bay Area and before the second work stoppage in October. Paid time off stayed in the contract as BART and the unions announced a deal that ended the second strike and as the unions ratified the new contract.
Then the shocking news struck last week.
BART claimed the inclusion of that paid time off was a clerical error, and one that could cost the transit system tens of thousands of dollars each year. Top management and members of the BART board of directors signaled that the elected board would reject the contract when it comes up for a vote today.
The transit agency has been less than forthcoming about how this item stuck around so long in the contract if it truly was something that was not supposed to be there, and why it was signed off on by BART’s negotiator.
The unions are right to be upset about this. So are BART riders, who are now back in the lurch about continued service as the unions throw around the word “strike” again.
There are several avenues by which BART could contain the fallout from this bungle, including having its board approve the contract that was agreed to by its negotiating team. The transit agency could also offer the unions something else, as Chris Daly, a union spokesman, suggested to The San Francisco Examiner. He said if BART gave the unions something “significant” on safety measures, he could see the unions budging on the family leave.
If BART does not bend on this issue and instead plays hardball back at the negotiating table, it will have no one to blame but itself for the fallout that occurs.