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Unions sue BART over contract dispute

Isabel Angell
Ashby BART station in Berkeley

BART’s biggest unions, SEIU 1021 and ATU 1555, are suing the BART Board of Directors and the district’s management over what BART is calling a “clerical mistake” in their new contract. The unions say management is trying to backtrack.

After the union rank-and-file voted to pass the tentative agreement in the beginning of November, BART management announced that a provision about paid family leave had been mistakenly left in the contract. The BART Board of Directors made the unprecedented move of passing the contract, but specifically striking that portion, and then asking the unions to vote on the updated contract.

The unions say that’s against the law, and slapped BART with a lawsuit on December 3.

“It’s unlawful for BART or any employer to sidestep months of negotiations, unilaterally change the terms of a total package agreement, and then offer the modified terms to the union on a take-it-or-leave it basis,” reads a statement released by SEIU 1021.

The unions do not agree that the contested section --which gives employees extra six weeks of paid family leave each year-- was a “clerical error,” as BART claims. In the statement, SEIU 1021 said if it was a mistake, then that mistake had been approved by management representatives many times.

“If that were the case, the ‘mistakes’ were caused solely by the District’s own carelessness and lack of constructive engagement at the bargaining table,” the statement reads. “That would not constitute grounds for repudiating or rescinding the parties’ contract.”

Now, unions are suing to force BART to accept the whole contract-- paid leave included.

But BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said a lawsuit will only serve to “delay resolution” to the months-long labor dispute.

“A lawsuit is not needed to correct a mistake. When mistakes are made in contract negotiations they are corrected administratively by the parties, acting in good faith,” Trost said in a statement. “Fortunately this mistake was caught in time before the mistaken language was brought before the District's Board for ratification.”

Trost says BART is currently reviewing the lawsuit.