Veteran BART Director Joel Keller began his term as the transit agency’s board president with a bang Thursday by proposing a ballot measure supporting state legislation that would ban strikes by BART workers.
Keller, who was first elected to the board in 1994 and has served as its president twice before, said he believes two short strikes by BART workers in July and October “undermined the public’s confidence” in the transit system and he sees a measure that would ban strikes as “a riders’ bill of rights.”
Keller said he thinks binding arbitration would be better than strikes in resolving BART’s labor disputes, which he said have gotten “progressively worse and worse” since he’s been on the board.
He said, “I see no alternative” other than banning strikes as a way to improve the bargaining process between BART and its unions.
Keller said that in the next 60 to 90 days, he will draft an advisory measure supporting a strike ban that would appear on the November ballot in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties.
Union leaders who were at today’s board meeting immediately criticized Keller’s proposal in harsh terms.
Chris Finn, one of the lead negotiators for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and foreworkers, said it’s “disingenuous” for Keller to support a strike ban.
Finn said he believes BART management and the board of directors forced workers to go on strike earlier this year by engaging in what he alleged was unfair bargaining.
“We hade a deal two days before the second strike in October but BART sabotaged it by proposing to make work rule changes without consulting us,” Finn said.
Pete Castelli, the executive director of Service Employees Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, told Keller, “Your first move as president is to undermine your employees and to demonize and attack them.”
Castelli alleged that Keller’s proposal “is nothing more than a political move and grandstanding.”
Castelli said, “You’re throwing gasoline on the fire and creating a clear pathway to conflict and dissonance.”
SEIU Local 1021 president Roxanne Sanchez told Keller, “I do not publicly support your leadership in any way, shape or form and I think it’s dangerous for you to hold your seat” as board president.
BART management is back at the bargaining table with SEIU Local 1021 and ATU Local 1555 to try to resolve a dispute over a contract provision that calls for employees to receive up to six weeks of paid family medical leave annually.
Negotiations were also held last Thursday and Friday and on Wednesday but there has been no agreement yet.
BART management says it hadn’t intended to include the paid family medical leave provision in a tentative agreement that was reached on Oct. 21 and claimed it had been mistakenly inserted by a temporary employee and that they had only discovered it while conducting a final review before submitting the agreement to BART directors.
On Nov. 21, BART directors approved the contract without the paid family medical leave provision and told union leaders to take the agreement back to their members for another vote without that provision.
Leaders of SEIU Local 1021 and ATU Local 1555 refused management’s request and instead filed a lawsuit two weeks ago alleging that the transit agency’s directors had acted unlawfully and must honor the terms of the tentative agreement.
Members of a smaller union, American Federation of State, County and Local Municipal Employees Union Local 3993, which represents about 210 middle managers, voted two weeks ago to approve the contract without the paid family medical leave provision.
BART directors approved 8-1 today to approve the contract with AFSCME Local 3993.
Director Zachary Mallett, who has said he believes BART’s agreements with its union are too generous, was the only director to vote against the agreement with AFSCME Local 3993.