Bay Area Transit Outfits Resolve Union Dispute

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Christmas came early for Bay Area commuters, when unions announced contract deals with BART and AC Transit.
     The bitter, yearlong contract battle between BART and its unions - which resulted in two strikes, a cooling-off period ordered by the governor, a reneged agreement and then a lawsuit over the reneging - ended with a whisper Saturday after both sides agreed to concessions on the remaining sticking point, paid family leave.
     An agreement reached in November originally gave BART workers six weeks of paid time off to attend to family matters, in addition to the 12 weeks of family leave they already enjoy. BART officials said they never intended to agree to that extension and left it out when the board of directors approved the contract on Nov. 21.
     The unions responded by suing the transit agency in Alameda County court, asking the judge to order BART to ratify the entire tentative agreement - including the family-leave clause.
     On Saturday, the unions announced they had dropped the family-leave issue in favor of management concessions, including expanded bereavement leave and the construction of new employee break rooms at the Daly City, Millbrae and West Oakland stations. A provision of the previous agreement to give workers a 15.4 percent wage increase over four years remains untouched.
     BART officials said they will ratify the contract with its two largest unions, SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 "as soon as possible."
     Nearby, AC Transit and its union announced they had also reached a tentative labor contract that will keep buses running throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties, days before their own cooling-off period was set to expire.
     The agency and ATU Local 192 have been locked in a dispute of their own since March. The union voted down two previous tentative agreements, but, unlike BART workers, had never officially gone on strike.
     Last week, AC Transit officials and the union settled a lawsuit over the use of computers to assign drivers to routes during the cooling-off period. The agency agreed to consult the drivers before implementing the changes, which converts circular routes into linear ones to create more consistent route times.
     No details of the contract were released, but ATU leaders said it included changes requested by union members. They expect the contract will be ratified within the week.