Politics

Phil Matier: What Went Wrong In BART Talks

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BART union representatives talk to reporters after announcing a strike on October 17, 2013. (CBS)

BART union representatives talk to reporters after announcing a strike on October 17, 2013. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — “Things went really, really bad at the last minute,” said former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown about Friday’s BART worker walkout. “In fact people became irrational.”

Brown explained when BART’s unions said to submit the work rules to arbitration that they’d learn to live with it.

“Management responded – because at that stage I think it was ego – ‘We won’t submit just the work rules; we want to submit the whole thing.’ Right in the toilet goes the whole proposed settlement,” said Brown.

If you’re a union leader, after all the talks are done, your union members are going to tell you, ‘Well we didn’t get that much of a good raise, but my whole work schedule got screwed up as a result of this’ and you’re going to be ticked and you might vote them out. There’s pressure on the union leaders on these things called work rules.

The idea of handing it over to an arbitrator is a way out. Then you can go back to the rank and file and say it wasn’t your call, but that it was the arbitrators’. Willie Brown said management should have jumped on that opportunity.

“At this stage in the game it is directly in management’s ballpark for causing the strike,” said Brown.

“Management turned around within minutes after the strike was announced and said ‘we’ll put the whole deal to arbitration, not just a piece of it.’ So they threw it back to the unions,” Matier said.

“You only do that when you really don’t want to settle, and I don’t believe management really wanted to settle,” Brown said. If you wanted to stop the strike you would take any extraordinary step that gets you there without compromising your position. Going to arbitration does not compromise management’s position.”

Also Friday, General manager Grace Crunican said in a statement released late this morning that BART management and its unions do not have an agreement on salary rate increases, despite what union leaders said on Thursday.

Crunican said during marathon negotiations with federal mediators, BART management agreed to an economic package coupled with work rule reforms informally offered by the mediators.

She said the unions “grabbed the salary offer, but balked at the work rule changes,” then went on to announce a strike Thursday afternoon and “falsely announced an agreement on salary.”

Crunican also clarified BART’s position on having an impartial outside party rule on the labor dispute, saying the agency’s management would consider having arbitration on an overall salary, health care, pension and work rules package.

When announcing strike plans Thursday, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 lead negotiator Josie Mooney said the unions offered to go to arbitration over proposed work rule changes, but management refused.

Crunican said BART management is willing to have arbitration over the work rule changes but only as part of “an entire, interconnected labor package.”

Crunican said the package BART has offered includes a 12 percent wage increase coupled with work rule concessions, such as overhauling overtime regulations and issuing a technology upgrade for recording information.

She said that management and the unions had found common ground on health care and pension issues in the past three weeks.

SEIU Local 1021 spokesman Des Patten, who has been at the bargaining table, said this afternoon that the two sides came to an agreement on the financial portion of the contract but it was held up by the work rule issues.

Patten said the overtime regulations issue has since been resolved, but other workplace procedures such as work hour scheduling and contract clauses—including a “beneficial past practices” line that BART wants to eliminate—remain contentious in talks.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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