Months have passed since a pair of BART strikes paralyzed the Bay Area, but the regrets clearly live on. The agency's board of directors spent a large chunk of Thursday night's meeting ruing the consequences and dreading a future rerun.

"Everybody in this room agrees we need a better way forward with our labor negotiations," said director Rebecca Saltzman.

"We let many people down during the strikes," agreed director Robert Raburn.

"It's our responsibility to see that this doesn't happen again," added director John McPartland.

That's why President Joel Keller brought forward for discussion an advisory ballot measure banning BART strikes that he wants to put before voters in Contra Costa, Alameda and San Francisco counties. Directors greeted it like a skunk under the bed. Sure, they want strikes gone but not if it means unpleasantries.

OK, there are shortcomings to Keller's measure. It would annoy unions, cost an estimated $2.1 million to put on the November ballot -- strikes cost the economy $73 million a day, the Bay Area Council estimates -- and serve only as a strong directive to the state Legislature to pass such legislation.

Still, opponents offered amusing rationales for bureaucratic inaction. Director James Fang said the measure would deny him the responsibilities for which he was elected -- to make the tough decisions required of labor negotiations. If the board were any good at labor negotiations, it wouldn't be in the mess it is today.

Saltzman feared the proposal would set in place a "divisive battle." And how did she categorize the relationship with labor during negotiations -- peace and harmony?

Keller was left largely on his own -- McPartland and Gail Murray gave lukewarm support -- as a succession of labor advocates piled on their opposition.

Train operator Chris Finn, speaking for the Amalgamated Transit Union, said labor would see this measure as an attack. Josie Camacho, secretary-treasurer for the Alameda Labor Council, said it was not in the best interest of residents, riders and workers. (Who knew she also represented residents and riders?)

Ted Franklin, an attorney for Service Employees International, delivered a dissertation on international labor standards that decry bans on public employee strikes. He was quieter when Keller pointed out that transit strikes are already banned in New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C.

The reason for banning transit workers from striking is the same as for firefighters and police: They provide essential services, the absence of which imperils the community. Some 400,000 riders a day count on BART. How's that for essential?

The argument fell on deaf ears Thursday. Most directors expressed high hopes for a labor-management ad hoc committee designed to smooth the waters before the next negotiation. If past water-smoothing efforts are any indication, keep a life jacket handy.

A different take came from director Zakhary Mallett, who said BART didn't need a no-strike clause. It needs its board to stand firm during negotiations.

"This board needs to develop a backbone," he said. "The reason striking has happened is because it works and it works because this board lets it."

For most people, BART's labor mess is yesterday's news. For those who run the agency, it never disappears.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewswgroup.com.