After seven months of acrimonious bargaining, two strikes, two worker fatalities and a disputed family medical leave provision, BART and it's two largest unions reached a tentative agreement early Saturday that could end the epic labor stalemate as early as next week.
Despite insisting a family medical leave provision that could have cost the district tens of millions of dollars over the life of the contract was mistakenly signed off in November, BART returned to the negotiating table and over the past month reached a series of concessions with its unions that the board president said were basically cost neutral. In exchange, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 agreed to remove the controversial Section 4.8 from the contract.
"I would've preferred getting a contract approved without 4.8 entirely," said newly elected Board President Joel Keller, who represents eastern Contra Costa County. "But the rules say return to the table and negotiate in good faith, and it's not good faith to go back and say take it or leave it."
Keller acknowledged some new "administrative costs" but said the new deal remains under the same "financial envelope" that the board had greenlighted for negotiations months ago.
In addition to seven months of finger-pointing and name-calling between unions and management, the transit agency has had a difficult year with a litany of equipment malfunctions, worker safety changes due to a train fatally striking two workers in October and a riding public that has lost its patience.
Fittingly, the labor strife may end with a flip-flop of protocol, as the board will vote first on the tentative agreement Thursday and, if passed, the unions will vote after. Keller said the change in order was at the request of the unions who remain perturbed that their rank-and-file approved tentative agreements in November only to have them shot down by directors.
"I think they're trying to avoid that happening again," Keller said. "I can see no reason why not do it; it does no harm."
The union presidents are expected to urge a "yes" vote by their members at next week's meeting, the president said.
The new agreements touched on a variety of concessions:
"After eight months of uncertainty for our riders, this deal will guarantee that every ounce of the agency's focus will be directed to providing great service to the Bay Area during the peak holiday period and beyond," said BART General Manager Grace Crunican, who will recommend ratification to the board.
BART's largest unions released statements saying the agreements were fair, also thanking federal mediator Greg Lim who assisted negotiations.
"It's a fair resolution that would close months of drawn out contract talks and -- in the interest of the riding public -- end the uncertainty caused by the board's removal of a section from our final, complete contract," SEIU 1021 Chapter President John Arantes said.
"That's the way to fix problems," said Des Patten, SEIU 1021 Professional Chapter president, "and the way we hope BART management and the BART directors would move forward from now on, so that they can restore the lost trust from the riders and from their workers."
ATU 1555 President Antonette Bryant hoped the end was near.
"We have been outraged that BART management would hold the Bay Area riders hostage like this," she said. "We expect the BART board will now do its part and do what they should have done all along ... approve this contract. Once they do, we will ask our members to ratify it as well."
Upon ratification, BART and the unions will meet to resolve the unfair labor practices litigation that remains in court.
The BART board president, who announced an advisory ballot measure to gauge riders interest in banning transit strikes last week, said he was happy to be close to the finish.
"There may have been some flaws in everything we did," Keller said, "but I hope everyone realizes we're close to the end."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.
Contra Costa Times