If BART directors want to figure out what went wrong with last year's labor negotiations, they could save themselves a $225,000 consulting fee and just look in the mirror.

They could start with Director James Fang of San Francisco, who chairs a special four-member board subcommittee created to figure out how to avoid another collective bargaining debacle.

For those who don't recall, Fang was walking the picket lines with the workers while the district's negotiators were at the bargaining table. Maybe, just maybe, that sent the wrong message to the unions.

At the subcommittee's recommendation, the full board last week hired a consultant to dissect the negotiations. Of course, during the bargaining last year, the board hired a lead negotiator but ultimately ignored him.

Workers walk the picket line at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland on Oct. 21, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
Workers walk the picket line at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland on Oct. 21, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

As soon as he left town, BART's operations manager and two staff attorneys cut a deal that increased the district's salary and benefits offer 48 percent. How did directors reward them and General Manager Grace Crunican, the staff person ultimately responsible for this fiasco?

The board gave those top managers the same raises they had negotiated with the labor unions. In other words, top managers effectively were at the table bargaining for their own raises. Maybe, just maybe, that sends the wrong message to riders and taxpayers.

After the fact, it became clear that operations manager Paul Oversier was more concerned with ending the strike than controlling costs. And Crunican, for all her tough talk, lacked negotiating experience and backbone to stand up to the unions. She clearly was out of her depth and overwhelmed by the process.


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As for BART directors, they simply caved to the unions and meddling local politicians, selling out their constituents to benefit labor backers who fund their campaigns.

BART board President Joel Keller's dubious claim that he wants recommendations for the future became laughable when he cynically appointed Fang to lead the special subcommittee that will make them. In the spirit of that nonsensical exercise, we offer our own recommendations:

  • Before bargaining with already highly paid employees, find out how their salaries and benefits compare to other transit districts across the country.

  • Determine how much you can afford, and then stick to that number. Don't cook the books later to justify an overpriced deal, and don't lie to the public about it.

  • Hire professional negotiators to conduct the bargaining. Your top managers are not qualified and benefit from the outcome.

  • Pay your top managers based on performance, not on what they agree to give the rest of the workers.

  • Daylight every offer and counteroffer of the collective-bargaining process. The public doesn't trust you behind closed doors.

    They have no reason to.