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Light at the End of the Tunnel? First of Two Unions Approve BART Contract

After months of tense negotiations and labor actions, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 has voted to accept a revised contract from Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). The other union involved, SEIU Local 1021, will vote on the contract on January 13th. Both unions originally agreed to the contracts on November 1st, 2013, only to have BART reneg claiming they did not approve of a provision dealing with family sick leave.

Union members are not sure whether to celebrate given their vilification in the media throughout the drawn out process. For many, it was simply the end of a dark chapter for the union and authorities. ATU President Antonette Bryant told the SF Gate, “After we counted the vote, we went home. It wasn’t that big of a deal. There’s time to celebrate when there’s something to celebrate. This contract should have been resolved in June.”

Prior to the union vote, BART approved the revised contract by an 8-1 margin. The only dissenting vote came from BART Director Zakhary Mallett. In exchange for dropping the family leave provision, unions were granted the following terms:

Expanded bereavement leave to include grandchildren and spouses’ stepparents. Total costs to the district are unknown, but staff expects it will be minimal.

Prioritized construction of break rooms in the Daly City, Millbrae and West Oakland stations through the agency’s existing station modernization program.

Improved retirement service credit and long-term care insurance options.

Extended the paid release time by one week for the 16 BART employees assigned to the unions’ bargaining teams.

Allowed workers to receive overtime pay for specified mandatory training.

Split ridership bonuses of up to $1,000 into two six-month periods for each employee if BART exceeds projections by 1 to 2 percent for each period. The split means employees still have a chance of earning a bonus, since the two strikes killed the agency’s chances of meeting the goals in the first half of the fiscal year. If BART exceeds ridership projections by at least 1 percent for either period, workers will receive $250 each at a total cost of $69 million. If the numbers top 2 percent, employees will receive $500 apiece.

Other major changes to the contract include:

New hires must work for the agency 15 years before they qualify for lifetime medical benefits during retirement. The old contract was five years.

BART will pay $350 a month to employees who opt out of health insurance coverage — up from $100 — as an incentive to sign up with a spouse’s employer.

Except for the training exemption, workers can no longer take unpaid leave during the week and then earn overtime wages by taking shifts on their days off.

Bart Director Gail Murray said of the contract: “It’s not perfect. It cost more than I wished we had to pay, but there are many things that will come out of this contract over the long term that will benefit riders and is fair to our employees.”

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Chaz Bolte
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