Many years ago I joined the "new" BART organization in an employee relations capacity. I was soon assigned to research potential employee issues. I discovered that because of BART's federal funding support, the new agency was required to comply with certain precedents rooted in railroad history. These created some new staffing and organizational issues.

The "New Orleans Conditions," rooted in railroad history, impacted early staffing plans. It was necessary to establish preferential hiring processes for transit employees who claimed they were "adversely affected" by BART operations.

California law also specified certain procedures necessary to establish relationships with unions seeking to represent employees of the new system.

A total of 18 unions later claimed rights to represent worker classifications referenced in staffing projections. Formal hearings, pursuant to state law applicable to BART, were then convened, with labor arbitrator Sam Kagel appointed as hearing officer.

Testimony was received from the public, BART and labor unions. The lengthy series of proceedings ultimately defined the composition and character of BART's projected work force.

Shortly after state certification of the bargaining units, negotiation of BART's first labor agreements began. Numerous bargaining sessions with United Public Employees -- Local 390 and Amalgamated Transit Union -- Division 1555 took place. However, in the final stages, after many intense sessions, the staff negotiators were suddenly replaced.

A politically oriented committee took over. The new group of negotiators included: a) four of the 12 "appointed" (not "elected") district board members, b) leaders of three county union labor councils c) the BART GM and his executive labor relations adviser (to whom primary staff negotiators reported).

The replacement committee excluded those who had been negotiating at the table for months. Agreements were soon reached on compensation and other key issues. The settlement agreements were promptly ratified.

These contracts effective July 1,1973-June 30, 1976, included operating employee pay rates then believed to be the highest in the nation. These excessive compensation levels also established the "base" for future contract negotiations. Separately, I later negotiated a contract with the BART Police Association effective Aug. 1, 1973.

During numerous subsequent negotiations, notable "politicos" regularly emerged to allegedly "help resolve issues." These displays have been perceived as "window dressing" designed to enhance political union support.

Although BART service disruptions may now be "over" -- the future remains unclear. Now is the time to enact legislation banning "all" public transit strikes -- including BART.

Hopefully, Bay Area residents may not again experience unnecessary service disruptions. It also is time to get the political opportunists out of the public transit bargaining arena.

Paul Cooper earned his BA in "labor and industrial relations" and "certificate in industrial relations" from UC Berkeley. His more than 30-year management career in his chosen field began in private industry manufacturing in 1959. His public sector career began with BART's pre-operational staff in 1967. He retired from the transit agency in 1992 after 25 years of management service. His major part-time community contributions include 21 years of elected Pleasant Hill City Council service and 15 years Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board appointed service.