BART approves contract, union threatens electoral challenges

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The BART Board of Directors approved a modified contract with its two biggest labor unions on Jan. 2, an action that received faint praise and was followed up with implied threats from both sides, continuing one of the ugliest and most impactful Bay Area labor disputes in recent memory.

The four-year contract resolves a dispute over a paid family leave provision that BART officials say was mistakenly included in the contract that the unions negotiated and approved in November following two strikes and two workers being killed by a train that was being used to train possible replacement drivers on Oct. 19.

Recent negotiations yielded a contract with seven new provisions favorable to workers, including a $500 per employee bonus if ridership rises in the next six months and more pension and flex time options, in exchange for eliminating six weeks of paid leave for family emergencies.

The new contract was approved on a 8-1 vote, with new Director Zakhary Mallett the lone dissenter, continuing his staunchly anti-union stance. Newly elected President Joel Keller was quoted in a district statement put out afterward pledging to change the "process" to prevent future strikes.

"The Bay Area has been put through far too much and we owe it to our riders and the public to make the needed reforms to our contract negotiations process so mistakes are avoided in the future," Keller said.

But from labor's perspective, the problem wasn't the "process," but the actions taken by the Board of Directors; General Manager Grace Crunican; and Thomas Hock, the union-busting labor negotiator they hired for $400,000 — and the decision by BART to practice bargaining table brinksmanship backed up by a fatally flawed proposal to run limited replacement service to try to break the second strike.

A statement by SEIU Local 1021 Executive Director Pete Castelli put out after the vote began, "Today's Board vote incrementally restores the faith that the riders and workers have lost in the Board of Directors, but it's not enough to fix the damage they've caused to our communities."

It goes on the blame the district for the strikes and closes with a vague threat to target the four directors who are up for election this year: Keller, James Fang, Thomas Blalock, and Robert Raburn (whose reelection launch party last month was disrupted by union members).

"Today BART is less safe and less reliable because of the Directors' reckless leadership," Castelli said. "Something has to change in order for all of us to regain our confidence in BART, and it starts with having BART Directors who are committed to strengthening the transportation system we all rely on and who prioritize its workers' and riders' safety. We look forward to the opportunity to work with our communities and to elect Directors who are committed to improving service and safety to all who depend on BART."

Asked whether the union was indeed threatening to get involved in those four elections this year, spokesperson Cecille Isidro told the Guardian, "You're absolutely right, that's exactly what we're trying to project."

Local 1021 Political Director Chris Daly took the threat a step further, singling out Mallett as by far the most caustic and anti-union director, saying the union is currently considering launching a recall campaign against Mallett, although that could be complicated by the fact that he represents pieces of three counties: San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa.

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