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BART Unions Continue Debate About Family Medical Leave Benefits

The talks are the first negotiations since Oct. 21, when BART reached a tentative agreement with the unions that ended a four-day strike.

by Bay City News

BART officials say they are hopeful that negotiations with the transit agency's two biggest labor unions today and Friday will resolve a heated dispute over paid family medical leave, a spokeswoman said.

"Good things can happen when the parties get to the bargaining table," BART spokeswoman Luna Salaver said shortly after talks began at BART headquarters in Oakland this morning. Salaver said BART is also glad that a federal mediator is participating in the talks, saying, "Having a third party involved is a positive step because it provides an outside person who can look at the situation neutrally."

The talks today are the first formal negotiations since Oct. 21, when BART reached a tentative agreement with the unions that ended a four-day strike. BART employees also went on strike for four and a half days at the beginning of July. At issue now is a contract provision that would allow BART employees to receive up to six weeks of paid family medical leave annually. Salaver said BART didn't mean to include that provision in the contract and a temporary employee included it by mistake when she was typing up tentative agreements last summer.

But union leaders say that BART negotiators signed off on the paid leave provision and have filed suit alleging that the transit district's board members acted unlawfully when they voted Nov. 21 to approve the contract without that provision. They say that management must honor the terms of the tentative agreement. "It's not a mistake," Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 president Antonette Bryant said this morning. She said BART should be held to the full language of the contract. "If I sign an agreement, my word is my bond, and we have to live with that," she said. Bryant said calling the inclusion of the provision a clerical error is a "total misrepresentation of the facts."

However, she said, union leaders are going into today's talks with an open mind. "We want a resolution to the contract ... so we're going to see what they have to say," she said of BART management. Bryant emphasized that the unions have not brought up the possibility of a third strike over the family-leave clause. Salaver said, "BART is committed to resolving this dispute so the Bay Area can have four years of labor peace and our employees can have the benefits of a new contract." But she said BART can't afford to pay employees up to six weeks of paid family medical leave every year, saying the provision is "quite generous" and isn't offered by other employers.

The unions that are negotiating with BART are Service Employees Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, and ATU Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and foreworkers. SEIU Local 1021 spokeswoman Cecille Isidro said Wednesday that the negotiating session will be "an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion to try to reach a fair and equitable contract."

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