Thomas Hock, the highly paid former chief BART negotiator who has come under fire for signing off on the disputed family medical leave provision that has derailed union contract agreements, issued his first public comments Thursday about the controversy, saying he wasn't aware of the perk's inclusion in the final deal.
"When I presented the last, best and final offer dated Oct. 13, 2013 and presented to the unions on Oct. 17, 2013, TA 4.8, which dealt with the Family Medical Leave Act, was not included in that last, best and final offer," Hock said in a statement released by a spokeswoman for his company, Veolia Transportation.
He added that he was absent from the negotiating table the long weekend of Oct. 19-21.
"Since I was not involved in or contacted about the negotiations over the weekend, I have no knowledge of when 4.8 became part of the settlement," Hock said, adding he could not comment further.
His comments come amid growing dissent from his former bosses, the BART directors, who agreed to pay him $399,000 to lead the six months of acrimonious negotiations. In fact, the board last week directed BART General Manager Grace Crunican to investigate whether the agency had grounds to file insurance claims or take legal action in the matter, Director Joel Keller said Thursday.
It was Hock, assistant general manager Paul Oversier and Labor Relations Manager Rudolph Medina who signed the family medical leave provision that was included in the final labor package ratified Nov. 1 by members of BART's two largest unions. BART has called the inclusion of the language a "clerical mistake."
Union leaders said the disputed provision was "not a glitch" but an agreement between both sides, and blamed Hock's "minimalist" approach to negotiations as a contributing factor to any confusion.
Whether going after Hock is fruitful is an open question, said San Francisco State Labor and Employment Studies professor John Logan.
"It may be somewhat unfair to blame Hock, as he wasn't the only person who signed off on the tentative agreements," Logan said. "But the agency was paying a great deal for Hock's services, and the public suffered a great deal as result of the adversarial nature of the negotiations.
"And now, BART is saying they are getting a terrible deal. It is a monumental train wreck. There needs to be a proper inquiry into why the process was so dysfunctional, and it needs to happen soon."
On Thursday, director Keller called for such an internal review of the entire labor negotiations process for the transit agency.
Meanwhile, BART trustees replaced Hock, whose contract ran out weeks ago, with another negotiator to find a way out of the mess.
The board unanimously approved increasing a contract with Bruce Conhain up to $70,000 for his negotiating services going forward. He was earlier approved for $99,000 to provide a "labor relations strategy" for the contract negotiations.
Director Robert Raburn, before approving the payment increase, said he confirmed Conhain was "not culpable" in the disputed family medical leave provision.
Staff writer Lisa Vorderbrueggen contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.