BART Unions Sue Over Contract 'Mistake'

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - The Bay Area Rapid Transit's two largest unions claim BART's governing board must abide by a labor deal it tentatively struck in late October, including a family-leave provision that it later claimed was a "mistake" and refused to approve.
     The Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 sued the San Francisco BART District and its board of directors in Alameda County Superior Court, claiming they failed to negotiate in good faith.
     "After months of negotiations and two prolonged unfair labor practice strikes, the district, SEIU, and ATU reached a total package agreement, consisting of numerous tentative agreements," the 76-page amended lawsuit states.
     After both unions ratified the agreement, BART's board of directors approved only part of it, claiming they had mistakenly included a provision allowing workers to take six weeks of paid family leave. BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the mistake "was caught in time before the mistaken language was brought before the district's board for ratification."
     But the unions say the district "engaged in bad-faith bargaining by repudiating, without good cause, the total package agreement negotiated by the district, SEIU and ATU."
     "Simply put, there was no 'mistake,'" they claim.
     "By our count, [BART] represented to us that we had an agreement on the package as a whole at least eight times," said Kate Hallward, attorney for ATU 1555. "They confirmed our package, and the chief negotiator and two senior managers signed the package. That's a pretty significant mistake."
     SEIU Local 2021's attorney, David Rosenfeld with Weinberg, Roger and Rosenfeld, said the truth will come out.
     "It will be interesting to read the responses from BART management in depositions and discovery," Rosenfeld said in an interview. "Either they didn't read or they can't read."
     BART officials blamed a "temporary employee" for the error, according to the lawsuit.
     "Even in the highly unlikely event that there was a bona fide mistake ... such a mistake was a 'unilateral mistake,'" the unions claim. "It would have had to have been a string of unilateral mistakes made by many BART managers and other employees over the course of several months."
     They added: "The ratification process is not an opportunity for the employer to cherry-pick the portions of a new contract that it likes and discard the others."
     The transit authority said the error could cost up to $44 million over four years if a third of union workers took the full paid family leave each year, according to The Associated Press.
     The unions added three new unfair labor claims to their June 24 lawsuit accusing BART of failing to properly negotiate over a host of issues, including workers' health, safety and pay.
     BART issued a statement this week explaining that the family medical leave provision grants six weeks of paid leave "on top of the 3-6 weeks of vacation, 13 paid holidays and 12 sick days that employees already receive annually. District negotiators would never have knowingly agreed to such a financially backbreaking proposal. The union's proposal for six additional weeks of paid leave was twice rejected by the district and then withdrawn by the unions. That withdrawal was reaffirmed by the district. After that point, it was never discussed again."
     Hallward indicated that resolution through negotiation is possible, but said BART management "need[s] to approach the process in good faith."
     "And that involves some give and take," she said.     
     Her co-counsel, Rosenfeld, said "public pressure could force BART management to find an appropriate solution."
     ATU is represented by Peter Salzman of Leonard Carder LLP, and SEIU is represented by Kerianne Steele of Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld.
     Also named as defendants are BART board directors Tom Radulovich, Thomas Blalock, Gail Murray, Joel Keller, Rebecca Salzman, Robert Raburn, John McPartland, Zakhary Mallett and James Fang.