In a stunning turn of events, the tentative BART contracts hammered out over months of acrimonious negotiations may be in jeopardy, as the transit agency announced late Thursday that a family medical leave provision "inadvertently" made its way into the final labor package headed to a board vote next week.
The transit agency is figuring out what the disputed provision could cost BART, but sources called the potential numbers "substantial" -- enough that the tentative contracts are up in the air. Sources, including one union head, say the unions have balked at changing the clause involving family medical leave.
"We have identified a glitch in the tentative agreement that was ratified by the unions," BART District 7 Director Zakhary Mallett said late Thursday. "The cause of that being incorporated into the contract is under investigation."
The tentative agreements -- signed by assistant general manager Paul Oversier, chief BART negotiator Tom Hock, Labor Relations Manager Rudolph Medina and union representatives -- include wording that would give employees six weeks of paid time off to take care of a seriously ill child, spouse, parent or domestic partner or to bond with a new child.
"BART management believes that a provision that it did not agree to was inadvertently included in the final labor package, which is scheduled to be considered by the BART Board next week," BART wrote in a news release late Thursday.
BART's board has called for a special meeting Friday afternoon to discuss the labor negotiations. BART officials say a vote on the contracts -- which must approved or rejected in their entirety, not piecemeal -- is expected Nov. 21.
While Mallett said that management has not advised the directors to vote against the contract, BART officials said in a statement that the provision could affect the board's ratification vote scheduled for next week.
Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 155, said members of her union voted overwhelmingly to approve the agreement.
"This agreement was not inadvertent. It was not a glitch," Bryant said. "We have a signed agreement by both parties."
The union leader said BART management first brought up the issue five days after members of BART's two largest unions -- ATU Local 155 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 -- voted to approve the tentative four-year contracts Nov. 1. Bryant added that the family medical leave language was included as early as July and August in working draft agreements and that it should not have been a surprise to BART managers.
"No one is ever fully happy with a contract," Bryant said. "But this was an agreement signed by both parties."
Taking the issue to arbitration or heading back to the negotiation table are options being weighed, a source said.
Negotiations between both sides had been heated for months, leading to two BART work stoppages that infuriated commuters. The contract would increase pay 16.4 percent over four years, with bonuses of up to $1,000 annually when ridership rises significantly. If approved, workers would begin paying into their pensions for the first time, and health care contributions will rise from about $92 to $129.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.