OAKLAND -- The BART board refused Thursday to ask voters to advise state lawmakers to ban BART strikes.
Despite widespread discontent among riders and the board about two strikes last year that forced 400,000 riders to find other ways to get around, BART Board President Joel Keller found little support for his plan to schedule a November advisory ballot measure.
The board didn't vote in its meeting but made it clear Keller is far short of having the five board votes needed to go to the ballot.
Under his proposal, voters in Contra Costa, Alameda and San Francisco counties would have been asked to urge legislators to ban BART strikes. BART and its unions would be required to submit contract disputes to an arbitration board for a binding decision.
Several BART directors, employees and labor leaders said the ballot measure would be divisive and would reopen old wounds while likely accomplishing nothing with a Democratic-controlled Legislature reluctant to ban strikes.
And even worse, several said, a BART strike measure could stir up voter ill will against the transit system on the same November ballot when Alameda County voters will be asked to double their transportation sales tax in part to help BART and other transit agencies.
BART Director James Fang of San Francisco said the ballot measure would encourage lawmakers to strip the BART board's power to settle wage and contract issues.
"In my humble opinion, it's slapping me in the face because it's saying you can't do your job to get this solved, so you need third party arbitration," Fang said. "I feel offended. That's why they elected me."
Keller said the "terrible" experience of the strikes in July and October convinced him BART strikes should be outlawed, as they are in other transit systems in San Francisco, New York, Boston and Chicago.
"The important thing is about the riders," Keller said. "How do we give them certainty that transit is going to be available?"
Several directors said they are upset the strikes shut down service, but they want to see if a BART board ad hoc committee working with labor and management leaders can come up with ways to prevent work stoppages.
"I want to give it a chance," Director Gail Murray said of the committee's efforts.
But if the internal effort fails, Murray said she would be willing to consider the advisory measure. "The public is angry," she said.
Keller said he has not given up and will raise the ballot measure again if the BART ad hoc committee fails to come up with solutions. We have to come up with a better way," he said.
BART Director Zakhary Mallett said a better way is for the board to develop "a backbone" in contract talks rather than making big concessions to the union to end or avert strikes.
"The best solution is to hold strong, and not cave in," Mallett said.
Theodore Franklin, an attorney associated with one of the BART unions, said the ballot measure would provoke labor turmoil. "The right to strike is a precious civil liberty," he said.
Keller noted that the BART board would need to act by June if it wants to schedule a ballot measure in November.