The BART Board of Directors voted 8-1 on Nov. 21, with conservative young Director Zakhary Mallett in dissent, to approve a hard-won contract with its unions, after removing Section 4.8, the paid family leave section that the district says was inserted by mistake.
The motion also directed management to negotiate a settlement over that issue with its unions, which have already approved the contract and now must decide whether they are willing to do so again without that provision or whether the possibility of another BART strike is once again looming.
The next day, BART's largest unions, SEIU Local 1021 and ATU Local 1555, issued a joint statement: "We consider the Board's actions to be unprecedented and illegitimate, and we're considering our next steps, including possible legal action. The BART Board of Directors has disregarded the vote of more than 2,000 BART workers and has chosen to subvert the collective bargaining process, and we take their actions seriously."
After meeting in closed session for about two hours, Vice President Joel Keller began the open session with a motion to remove Section 4.8 from the contract, approve the rest, and direct management to negotiate with the unions.
Mallett, the 25-year-old newbie who lives in unincorporated West Contra Costa County but whose District 7 includes part of San Francisco, spoke first: "Even before this hiccup, I was not in the position to support this contract. I find it too costly."
But he was the only one to take that stance, with the rest of the directors calling the underlying contract a fair compromise, even if all said they couldn't support the paid family leave provision that would add anywhere between $4 million and $44 million to a contract that was already going to cost the district an additional $67 million.
Director Gail Murray noted that the unions had given up raises for years when BART had budget deficits, and now that the district is running surpluses, it's reasonable to give workers raises that amount to about 2 percent per year for four years.
"Our employees kept the system going...They're the reason why we keep 40-year-old cars still running," Murray said, later adding, "To say this contract is not a good contract is wrong."
The rest of the board agreed, even while acknowledging it is more than they hoped to pay given the district's capital needs and aggressive expansion plans.
"We're probably paying more for this than we anticipated we would pay, and labor is probably giving up more than they want to, but that's the nature of collective bargaining," Keller said, who also began what turned into a chorus of criticism for how district negotiators signed off on a provision the board never agreed to.
"We ended on a sloppy note and that's regrettable," Keller said, pledging that if he's elected president next month — an ascension that is customary for the vice president — he plans to launch a full investigation into what happened.
"I'm pained that we put ourselves in such adversarial positions with each other and that we lost the lives of two employees," Director John McPartland said of the protracted labor negotiations and the fatalities that occurred while the unions were on strike Oct. 19. He called the contract "more than fair and equitable."
Director James Fang, who represents western San Francisco, sounded the strongest criticisms of BART management and negotiators. "Yes, it was a mistake, but nobody has come forward and said 'there was a mistake and I'm responsible," Fang said, later adding, "The ones who signed this must be held to account."
Fang then went further, albeit without specifics, when he said, "Every bit of management advice we've received has not worked out to the district's best interests."