BART's board and management needs to start now to revamp its approach to contract negotiations to avoid a repeat of last year's labor dispute and strikes. That's the major conclusion of an outside consultant's 224-page report reviewing last year's strife and looking forward to the next round of negotiations, scheduled in 2017.
The steps include:
- Beginning negotiations earlier
- Bringing in "neutral facilitators" before formal talks begin to build trust between labor and management
- Excluding managers with "historically combative relationships and/or adversarial styles" from involvement in labor relations and including managers who are respected by and have credibility with the workforce
- Agreeing with unions on a fallback arbitration process in the case of impasse
- Agreeing with unions on a joint media strategy in order to avoid airing disputes publicly.
There's plenty of fascinating reading in the report, based on more than 200 hours of interviews with 60 people, including members of the BART board, agency managers, the agency's labor consultants and union officers and negotiators, among others. Here's part of the document's summary of the 2013 contract battle, which ended only after two nonunion workers were hit by a train and killed during the system's second strike last October:
At BART, a multitude of minor and significant mistakes, miscommunications, inaccurate assumptions, pervasive sense of mistrust, combative history, antagonistic tactics and feelings of victimization and futility all converged to poison the 2013 bargaining process. Interviews conducted over the last two and one-half months lead us to conclude that all parties have baggage and are deeply affected by what happened last year. Numerous interviewees used words such as “shell shocked,” “devoid of trust,” “angry” and “polarized” to describe their current state of mind.
The report's authors also included a litany of the "combat-type references" that the two sides used to describe the conflict:
- “We just walked out of a war.”
- “It was like Vietnam.”
- “We are outgunned.” (Over 20 separate references)
- “They bring an army.”
- “A strike is war. That’s what they caused.”
- “Labor massacre.”
- “They declared war.”
- “The bloodiest strike ever.”
- “They threw bombs.”
So, how ready are the two sides to embrace a new direction? The San Francisco Chronicle's Michael Cabanatuan conveys remarks from both management and labor:
BART General Manager Grace Crunican said the agency is analyzing the recommendations and has already taken steps to improve relations with its unions.
"Last year's labor negotiation process was well below the standard the public and our riders expect and deserve," she said. "This report makes it clear that mistakes were made on all sides during the 2013 labor negotiations process. BART management certainly made our share."
Pete Castelli, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents clerical, maintenance and administrative workers, said he supported many of the recommendations. But, he said, BART doesn't have to wait for the next round of contract talks to improve labor relations.
"Anything that gets us having these kinds of conversations and gets management thinking about what happened is a good thing," he said. "Taking a different approach that would mean good faith bargaining, we'd welcome that. But they can do that now. They could do that yesterday."