Unions sue BART after directors demand changes to ratified contract

Two unions whose members work at San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court charging that BART’s Board of Directors acted illegally when they refused to ratify a collective bargaining agreement unless the union agreed to remove a section that both sides had previously agreed to.

The board at its November 21 meeting voted to remove Section 4.8 from the collective bargaining agreement that ended a four-day strike in October by SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, BART’s two largest unions. Section 4.8 provides union members with paid family medical leave.

The unions and BART began negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement in May. It took two strikes and intense negotiations to reach a final agreement that included the provision on paid family medical leave.

The membership of both unions ratified the agreement, but BART’s board surprised the unions at a November 21 board meeting by voting to remove the family medical leave section from the agreement.

“The ratification process is not an opportunity for the Board of Directors to cherry pick the portions of a new contract that it likes and disregard others,” said Kerianne Steel, Local 1021’s attorney. “BART is bound by the total package agreement they negotiated.”

The agreement that ended the October strike included language that raised union members pension and health care contributions.

It was signed by BART’s chief negotiator Tom Hock, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier, and Labor Relations Manager Rudy Medina, and included the paid family medical leave section.

Prior to final agreement, the two sides identified issues that needed clarification and worked together to reach an agreement on these issues.

During this time, board members were supervising and monitoring their representatives negotiating the agreement. They also approved each section of the agreement before their negotiators agreed to a final settlement.

During negotiations, board members had their chance to object to the retention of paid family medical leave, but never raised any concerns.

Before the conclusion of the agreement, BART’s negotiators put in writing that Section 4.8 was part of the agreement that ended the strike.

Members of Local 1021 and Local 1555 ratified the agreement with the paid family medical leave provision intact.

But at the November 21 meeting, the Board of Directors said that retaining the paid family leave provision would cost too much money and that it’s negotiators had made a mistake by retaining it in the new agreement.

The board refused to ratify the full agreement and told the unions to take the amended version back to the membership for a new vote.

Instead, the unions sued.

“The unions have bargained in good faith, ratified a complete agreement, and have been willing to work with BART Management and the Directors to address their
concerns,” said Pete Castelli, Executive Director of SEIU 1021. “But the response we’ve gotten from BART Management and the Directors is that workers
should just disregard the bargaining process and the contract that thousands of workers ratified.”

The union’s suit charges BART and its Board of Directors acted illegally in three ways.

According to the suit, the board acted illegally when it refused to sign the agreement and based its refusal on the questionable assertion that BART’s negotiators had made a mistake by including the paid family medical leave provision in the final contract.

The board also acted illegally when it refused to honor the final and complete agreement even though it closely monitored and supervised its negotiators and gave their approval to each section of the agreement before final agreement was reached.

Finally, it is illegal for the board to change unilaterally a negotiated agreement and then present these changes to the unions and their members as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

“Time and time again, the unions have demonstrated a willingness to address the Board’s issues in order to reach a resolution,” said Antonette Bryant, president
of ATU 1555.  “That requires dialogue, but there’s been none. Instead, the directors decided to create further uncertainty and renege on the total
agreement they reached with workers.”

BART’s unwillingness to talk to its unions, according to their attorney, left them no choice but to sue.

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