That means a month of negotiations would have to be enough time to avoid another strike. But a month became three weeks, as no negotiation meetings were scheduled until Friday (though the state-appointed mediators have been meeting with both BART labor and management).
And now three weeks are two. No meetings at all will happen from July 22 to July 29, when BART's $399,000 chief negotiator -- transit attorney Tom Hock, who labor leaders view as a union buster -- goes on vacation.
We've heard of golfing or clearing brush during a crisis, but this is, well, ridiculous.
BART's labor contracts with its five unions expired on June 30. The two largest unions, SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which together represent about 2,300 train operators, station agents, cleaners, and mechanics, went on strike rather than agree to paying more into their healthcare and pensions.
BART workers have not had a raise since 2008, but do enjoy health insurance and retirement benefits that private sector workers would love to have. Negotiations on a new contract began April 1, and to spearhead their dealings with labor, the BART Board of Directors awarded a $399,000 contract to Hock.
Hock runs an Ohio-based firm called Veolia Transportation that has a history of coming into transit systems with labor disputes -- and more or less breaking the unions, as the East Bay Express reported this week.
Hock has been accused of many things by labor. There's surface bargaining, wherein one side essentially stonewalls the other, refusing to change an offer. There's bad faith negotiations, which led the BART unions to file a lawsuit a week before they went on strike.
But now there's this.
Labor leaders are incredulous; they've never heard of anything like a negotiator leaving to go on vacation during such tense labor negotiations that could bring the Bay Area commute to a screeching halt -- literally. Yet there it is, on the negotiation schedule: No meetings for an entire week, when Hock will be out of town.
No word on how long Hock plans to be out on vacation; we checked in with BART spokesman Rick Rice. We'll update when we hear back. What we do know is that Hock will receive the $399,000 for his services.
In the meantime, labor is making as much hay of this as they can.
"This makes it clear for all to see that BART Board President Tom Radulovich, BART General Manager Grace Crunican and their hatchet man, Thomas Hock, are simply not engaging in good faith negotiations," John Arantes, president of the BART Chapter of SEIU 1021 said in a statement issued this morning. "Where can Hock be going on vacation that is more important than making sure the interests of the taxpayers paying his $399,000 a year salary?"
Wherever it is, we hope it's far away from trains, for his sake.