Board approves contract “after secret negotiations were held during BART Directors’ campaign elections” he said.
“…giving space to someone who can’t pronounce our past GM’s name or spell eBART correctly and someone who makes false claim after false claim is a disservice to the public and spreads lies.” – BART Director Li
“These agreements offer BART budgetary stability as we plan our recovery from COVID-19.” – Board V.P. Foley who voted in support.
“The contract extensions come seven months before the contracts are due to expire, locking in employee costs at pre-pandemic levels…at the level that it was when we were carrying 410,000 riders each week day and now we carry about 50 (thousand).” – BART Director Allen
By Allen Payton
In an attempt to get them to reconsider the proposed labor contract with employee unions, State Senator Steve Glazer challenged the BART Board during their meeting on Thursday, Dec. 3. He asked why they were considering the contract long before it’s set to expire, and more is known about the impacts of COVID-19 next year. In response, he was called a liar by one director.
Nevertheless, the BART Board voted 7-2 in favor of the contract, with Directors Debora Allen from Contra Costa County and Liz Ames from Alameda County casting the votes against. Board Vice President Mark Foley who represents other portions of Contra Costa County voted in favor of the contract extension.
Glazer issued a statement earlier this week about BART’s announcement “on Thanksgiving eve…(about) a tentative labor contract with their represented groups, after secret negotiations were held during BART Directors’ campaign elections.”
“Along with other specific contract changes, this tentative agreement is premature and a big mistake and will likely harm BART riders, commuters and taxpayers through fare hikes and service erosion,” his statement continued.
Glazer read most of the statement during the Thursday meeting, but offering additional comment.
“I want to be clear what I have to say reflects my views of accountability and trust that the public expects from all of us,” he said. “I think we all agree that BART is in a financial meltdown due to the pandemic and it’s not clear to me that you have a clear plan for recovery. The district’s own financial analysis projects a shortfall of tens of millions of dollars by next summer amidst the steepest decline in ridership in your agency’s history. My view, the district needs all the flexibility it can to avoid a financial disaster. Yet, BART is tying its hands with this agreement.”
“In the first half of 2021 BART will have a clearer idea about the COVID-19 vaccine availability, ridership improvements, any potential financial bailout assistance from the federal government, and the results of your early retirement incentives that have already been offered to existing employees,” Glazer explained. “All of these potential outcomes will provide important budgetary insight that should shape any new contract terms. But instead of waiting for that information, you are now rushing to approve a contract, negotiated behind closed doors, with no public notice and it will prevent you from making any kind of targeted salary reductions if your revenues do not recover. This will likely lead to service reductions and fare increases which will hurt the very people you are here to serve.”
His statement issued on Monday adds, “BART is leaving few options but to lay off employees and curtail the number of trains, which would further depress ridership and deepen the agency’s financial crisis.
“So, I come here with a question,” Glazer continued during the meeting. “The current labor contract with your representative employee groups doesn’t expire until July 1st, 2021. So, why did the district make an early agreement with so many economic unknowns?”
“It’s my understanding that BART has not even done a salary survey of other transit districts and public agencies to determine if the current salaries called for in this agreement are needed to recruit and retain qualified employees, basic data needed to inform any effective negotiation,” he said. “I question whether the failure to conduct a salary survey is keeping with board policy and procedures.”
“Now, the public was never told when your negotiations started. I’m told these negotiations were initiated by the Board in September and October. If true, that means that directors were negotiating with BART unions on their salaries and benefits on one hand, while asking the same unions for campaign contributions with the other hand. This is an outrageous injection of politics in a hugely consequential employer-employee agreement. And by setting the terms of the agreement at three years rather than four years based on past contract durations, the future contract will be negotiated during another election year.”
“You know that, Board members, before you came to this board for the most of you, had worked for a long time to ensure the contract negotiations would not be immersed in politics and election year circumstances. So, that four-year duration was done purposely. You unravel that in this proposed contract before you.
“In this agreement, for the most part, you’ve abandoned any of the work rule changes that were central to the 2013 contract negotiations. Where have those work rules been laid out, publicly disclosed and discussed, so that we can understand why they’ve been abandoned in this agreement.”
“You know, when the strike happened in 2013, BART management was clear that the work rules were probably more important than the salaries and benefits being negotiated. It had that kind of consequence and impact on the agency. But there’s a complete void of understanding or knowledge about what efforts were made to negotiate those work rules.”
It reversed important e-BART reforms that were instituted by former General Manager Grace Crunican. Again, BART, the board members, and the management (were) very involved in establishing those eBART reforms which you’re throwing out in this proposed contract.”
So, it’s not surprising to me, that you are moving forward with due haste to approve these negotiations and rush this contract through with very little public review, and I think that it’s because the details and the consequences are uncomfortable.
“I would hope that you will reconsider what you are doing, today and take a more deliberate and cautious approach to these negotiations as you consider the full impact of the pandemic on our economy. It would be best for your financial well-being and more importantly for BART riders throughout the Bay Area.”
“In conclusion, let me just say that the foundation of your service as board members is to ensure that this transportation system is able to function during good times and bad times. This contract continues the limitation against training management to run the trains during a work stoppage. So, all of BART riders, many of them low-income people who can’t afford to stay home, will be prevented from getting to work under this contract provision. We’re talking about teachers and nurses, social workers, grocery clerks and other essential workers, who will all be left stranded if your trains stop running because you created this self-inflicted problem.”
“This strike protection provision is an abdication of your sacred duty and will limit future boards from helping the commuters when matters cannot be worked out at the bargaining table. And listen, we all would strongly hope that all matters can be worked out at the bargaining table.”
In his issued statement, Glazer included, “BART’s management doesn’t want the public to see what they are doing because they know that BART riders and other Bay Area residents would not support this agreement if they understood its details and its consequences.”
The BART Directors then took up the issue of the labor union contract.
General Manager Robert Powers responded to Glazer, saying, “I was the one…negotiating these tentative agreements with our labor partners. There were no elected officials in those discussions. I was supported primarily by our chief labor negotiations officer as well as our AGM of Operations. I wanted to be…crystal clear that it was me leading these negotiations under the authorization granted to me by the BART Board.”
During public comments, Sal Cruz, president of AFSCME Local 3093 said, “Our work has accelerated during this pandemic at great risk to our employees, as we position ourselves for the recovery we know will come. Proper positioning will be critical for the survival of all transit and for the Bay Area economy that is now linked to BART. Thank you for your leadership during these challenging times. Every transit agency in the country is in the same position as you are, now. The decision before you, today, is not an easy one. But it allows us to focus on rebuilding o ur system, continuing to provide safe transportation for our essential workers and preparing for the return of our riders. The workforce is behind you, the riders are behind you and the Bay Area is behind you.”
Li Calls Out Glazer
BART Director Janice Li, who represents District 8 which includes portions of San Francisco, spoke next calling out Glazer for lying, mispronouncing the past general manager and misspelling eBART (it was spelled “e-Bart” in his statement from earlier in the week.
“I am proud to vote yes on this action, today. A yes vote, today is a yes vote for BART, is a yes for our riders and a very, very important yes for our workers,” she said. “Voting no makes BART an enemy to our workers and our riders.”
“There has been a lot of talk about this decision coming forward as too early or as a result of private meetings. I just want to be very clear that this claim is factually not true,” she stated. “First, I’m a member of the board’s labor negotiations review committee. We have been meeting since May of this year, then again in July, then again in August. These meetings are open to the public. They are publicly noticed and at subsequent board meetings we always give updates during board reports.”
“Second, we have held multiple closed session meetings regarding labor relations in recent months, and once again they have always been noticed as part of our board agenda,” Li continued. “Third, people who are saying that this is too early are saying that because the financial situation ahead is so unclear and that the board should wait until more is known. The truth is that things will inevitably change. But our staff has been doing excellent work in scenario planning and being transparent about all the potential futures, both good and bad. Furthermore, this contract is not one in the same as our budget revisions. In fact, this does not mean layoffs can’t or won’t happen. So, saying that by voting, yes it ties our hands or limits our options is incorrect.”
“And fourth, respectfully, I strongly refute the false claims made by Senator Glazer. Honestly, giving space to someone who can’t pronounce our past GM’s name or spell eBART correctly and someone who makes false claim after false claim is a disservice to the public and spreads lies. The idea that this was timed with elections is wrong and I will speak for myself, I was not up for election, re-election and I have not raised a cent for re-election, this year and I was not even endorsed by unions when I first ran in 2018.”
“So, what we actually have before us is a result of an incredible collaboration between BART management and labor unions and at the end of the day, who benefits?” she asked. “It’s our riders.”
She then thanked “the entire BART team for rebuilding trust with our labor unions and of course I want to thank our labor union partners for being collaborative at an incredibly difficult time.”
“As a board member I’m incredibly grateful that this decision is coming to us sooner rather than later so we can get back to focusing on running a safe system for our essential workers and implement a successful recovery plan during and through the pandemic that has raged every public transit agency, every public institution and every aspect of our lives. Let’s vote yes on this, today and if you remember our new slogan from the board workshop, earlier this year which, I know feels like years ago, ‘Let’s Go,’” she concluded.
Allen Offers Arguments Against Contract
Director Allen spoke against the contracts and supported what Glazer said.
“First, I want to touch on the private meetings because that seems to be a contentious little dialogue. I believe that is absolutely how these contracts come to be,” she said. “It is unfortunate the board discussion about these agreements doesn’t happen in public session. I believe we shouldn’t be discussing the contract extensions in closed door sessions where board members may say things that they would not say in public. In addition, I really do believe not enough of our own closed board discussion has occurred prior to this day of ratification.”
“There’s so much operational uncertainty, right now for BART and I’m not comfortable that the financial projections and plan give us the data we need for this decision,” Allen continued. “It’s really hard to say whether these are fair contracts. But despite having received $377 million in federal CARES Act subsidies already, this year, BART projects another $210 million deficit over the next 18 months and that is the case after we slashed the capital and pension funding allocations from the Fiscal Year ‘21 budget, along with the load shedding to the capital budget that has occurred throughout this year.”
“From my view we should be receiving regular updates of projected deficits for three years…and that information should be part of any decision by this board to extend labor contracts for three years out. They go together. Labor is 80% of our budget,” she stated.
“So, now we are all hopeful that another $377 million will come to us from D.C. and we’re hopeful that the retirement incentive will induce enough people to retire from exactly the right positions that we can afford to eliminate which we know is not really a reasonable assumption. We already know that some people are retiring from positions that we are going to have to turn around and refill,” Allen said. “We shouldn’t be budgeting to hopeful or aspiration. This is what we did back in June when we passed the budget, and it didn’t work out. We really projected far more revenue than we have. But, if even if those other things come true…it will likely only fund another three-quarters to one year of operating deficits. And it won’t do anything to make up for the lack of capital funding and pension funding that we put aside in ’21 and are likely to do, again in Fiscal Year ’22.”
“The contract extensions come seven months before the contracts are due to expire, locking in employee costs at pre-pandemic levels even as revenue projects remain wildly uncertain well into the next couple of years,” she explained. “Costs will be locked in at the level that it was when we were carrying 410,000 riders each weekday and now, we carry about 50 (thousand).”
Foley Speaks in Support
Foley shared his thoughts in support of the contract.
“There was a lot of hard work that went in to making this happen. I am fully in support of this prudent approach to labor negotiations during the pandemic,” he said. “These agreements offer BART budgetary stability as we plan our recovery from COVID-19. A wage freeze, next year, coupled with two years, of at most, very modest increases, increases that are directly tied to returning ridership and BART’s financial recovery, is a responsible course of action to take.”
“More importantly, you know these contracts provide language to allow us to reopen negotiations, a necessary safety net during these challenging times,” Foley continued. “These proactive steps are being taken to hopefully avoid further service cuts, like closing stations, eliminating weekend service or laying off employees, employees that will be needed when we ramp up service.”
“And to those employees I say thank you. You are BART’s most important asset,” he stated. “We wouldn’t have been successful if not for the collaboration of your union leadership and union partners.”
“And lastly, I’d like to thank the district secretary’s office for bringing this item, publishing this agenda to the board, two days early rather than publishing it during the Thanksgiving holiday. This gave us additional transparency around this action. I urge my fellow board members to vote in support of these tentative agreements and I fully support this motion,” Foley concluded.
Other board members spoke, mainly in favor of the contract extension and they then voted 7-2 to approve.