After six contentious months of negotiating and numerous line-by-line reviews of a new BART labor contract, a disputed medical leave provision -- one that the transit agency says is too costly -- somehow made its way into the final agreement, complete with the signatures of BART's three top negotiators.
On Friday, BART took ownership of the error, saying it actually drafted the paperwork with the disputed clause -- and attempted to explain how it happened.
The family medical leave provision was rejected "several times" by BART in early negotiations -- specifically, in writing, on June 6 and June 11, the transit agency said. It "was included in a stack of tentative agreements, and was signed in error by the (BART) district in July 2013," BART wrote in a statement Friday.
BART assistant general manager Paul Oversier, who signed it, said the disputed language has the "potential for huge financial implications" in a four-year, $67 million contract already assailed by critics as too expensive.
A BART statement released after a special closed-door board meeting Friday night said a worst-case financial scenario -- if 33 percent of BART employees took six weeks of family leave each of the next four years -- would cost BART an estimated $44.2 million.
"This plan has potential grave consequences for the (BART) district," said board member Joel Keller from East Contra Costa County after that meeting.
Oversier acknowledged it was the transit agency's own bargaining team that drafted the tentative agreement.
Under the current contract, workers get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick child, spouse or parent, but must use vacation, sick time or floating holidays for it to be "paid," BART said. Tentative agreement subsection 4.8 would require BART to provide additional paid leave for six of the 12 weeks.
Oversier said management became aware of the disputed clause on Nov. 4. Three days later, BART counsel Vicki Nuetzel sent an email, obtained by this newspaper, expressing outrage to the union attorneys.
"I am astounded that each of you now attempt to deny that this (tentative agreement) was executed in error," Nuetzel wrote. "There is no evidence that this proposal was ever agreed to.
"We have notes that indicate that this proposal was withdrawn and -- frankly -- each of you know that the district would never have agreed to this proposal which -- oddly -- is the exact language submitted by the unions on April 1."
Karianne Steele, an attorney for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, received that e-mail. She doesn't want the language changed.
"If this had been something that had arisen in the final hours while they were trying to wrap it up, their argument would be more understandable," said Steele, who spoke at Friday's special BART board meeting. "This was not just a last-minute rush job."
Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 155, implored the board to ratify the agreements as they stand.
"There was no nefarious dealings, no glitch, no clerical error," she said. "I encourage you not to take the Bay Area hostage again."
BART's Friday night statement said the board will urge General Manager Grace Crunican to meet with union leaders to resolve the situation.
"It will be very difficult to get the majority of the board to approve the contract in its current form," Keller said Friday night.
So how could Oversier, Labor Relations Manager Rudolph Medina and lead negotiator Tom Hock sign off on the clause that they fought so hard against?
"Mistakes happen in the business world and in life every day," BART wrote. "That is not an excuse -- it is just a fact. "
Staff writer Thomas Peele contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.