OAKLAND -- Commuters, wipe your brows -- the BART strike threat is over.

The transit agency's elected board voted 8-1 on Thursday to ratify labor contracts with its two largest unions, ending a six-week stalemate over an expensive family leave provision the agency says was mistakenly added to the deal.

The unions agreed to pull the family leave perk in exchange for what BART officials characterize as revenue-neutral concessions.

The four-year contract now moves into the hands of the approximately 1,100 workers, who are expected to support it. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 will vote Friday, and Service Employees International Union Local 1026 will follow on Jan. 13.

Commuters drive along Interstate 580 next to idle BART trains around 6 a.m. at the BART station in Pleasanton, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, as a strike
Commuters drive along Interstate 580 next to idle BART trains around 6 a.m. at the BART station in Pleasanton, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, as a strike called by BART unions takes affect. An agreement between BART management and two unions, local Service Employees International Union and local Amalgamated Transit Union could not be accomplished after talks broke down yesterday. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Both sides appeared relieved to reach the end of nine months of acrimonious negotiations that included two four-day strikes and sent tens of thousands of frustrated riders onto already crowded highways and buses.

"It's been rough but we are there," said BART board President Joel Keller of Brentwood.

ATU Local 1555 bargaining team member Chris Finn echoed Keller's sentiment, saying, "We're happy to have this settled."

The board had rejected an earlier version of the contract after staff discovered the family leave provision, which the agency estimated would have cost at least $5 million, depending on how many people used it.

As written, workers would have been paid full wages for up to six weeks for eligible family emergencies, in addition to vacation and sick leave.


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Labor leaders disputed BART's position and filed an unfair labor practices lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court.

With the help of a federal mediator, BART and its unions resumed talks in mid-December and settled just before Christmas.

In exchange for removing the family leave perk, the agency:

  • Expanded bereavement leave to include grandchildren and spouses' stepparents. Total costs to the district are unknown, but staff expects it will be minimal.

  • Prioritized construction of break rooms in the Daly City, Millbrae and West Oakland stations through the agency's existing station modernization program.

  • Improved retirement service credit and long-term care insurance options.

  • Extended the paid release time by one week for the 16 BART employees assigned to the unions' bargaining teams.

  • Allowed workers to receive overtime pay for specified mandatory training.

  • Split ridership bonuses of up to $1,000 into two six-month periods for each employee if BART exceeds projections by 1 to 2 percent for each period. The split means employees still have a chance of earning a bonus, since the two strikes killed the agency's chances of meeting the goals in the first half of the fiscal year. If BART exceeds ridership projections by at least 1 percent for either period, workers will receive $250 each at a total cost of $69 million. If the numbers top 2 percent, employees will receive $500 apiece.

    Except for elected BART Director Zakhary Mallett, who cast the only dissenting vote Thursday, the directors praised the $67 million deal as fair for workers, riders and taxpayers.

    On the critical side, several directors blasted the media, saying the coverage failed to highlight the less tangible agency gains, including greater management authority over the use of improved technology.

    "It's not perfect," said Director Gail Murray of Walnut Creek. "It cost more than I wished we had to pay, but there are many things that will come out of this contract over the long term that will benefit riders and is fair to our employees."

    Mallett reiterated his dissatisfaction with what he labeled a financially unsustainable compensation package and said the agency was mistakenly rewarding "bad behavior."

    "When children run away, you don't reward them when they get home, you punish them," Mallett said.

    He singled out the pay increases workers will receive that will offset new employee pension contributions. In this contract, workers will pay toward their own retirement costs for the first time, starting with 1 percent in the first year and going to 4 percent by year four.

    But they will receive annual pay and cost-of-living raises of 16.3 percent by the end of the contract, a net gain of nearly 13 percent after subtracting the pension and health care costs. Health insurance costs will rise $37 a month, although the workers' contribution remains relatively low, starting at $132 a month in the first year to $144 a month in year four regardless of how many dependents are covered.

    In other contract provisions:

  • New hires must work for the agency 15 years before they qualify for lifetime medical benefits during retirement. The old contract was five years.

  • BART will pay $350 a month to employees who opt out of health insurance coverage -- up from $100 -- as an incentive to sign up with a spouse's employer.

  • Except for the training exemption, workers can no longer take unpaid leave during the week and then earn overtime wages by taking shifts on their days off.

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.