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California Bay Area commuter rail unions sue to enforce contract that ended strike

A sign is shown blocking the entrance to the Powell Street station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco, California October
A sign is shown blocking the entrance to the Powell Street station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco, California October

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Unions representing more than 2,000 rail workers on Tuesday sued the San Francisco area's commuter rail system, the nation's fifth largest, saying management had reneged on an agreement to end a strike that paralyzed the network in October.

After more than six months of bargaining, Bay Area Rapid Transit District management and the unions reached a tentative deal in October on a four-year labor contract, ending a four-day walkout. Union members ratified the contracts shortly after.

But BART's board of directors later said its negotiators had mistakenly agreed to a term in the contract that would allow employees to receive six weeks of paid family medical leave, and last month voted to approve the contracts without the provision.

In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court, leaders of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 said that in ratifying the contract without the leave, BART violated a provision in the Public Utilities Code to bargain in good faith.

"The board of directors is not in any position to cherry pick which provisions it intends to honor and which it does not," said Kate Hallward, an attorney for the unions.

Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgated Transit Union, said BART had refused to negotiate on the family medical leave provision and simply wanted the unions to drop that part of the agreement.

She said the unions felt there was "no other recourse" but to file the lawsuit.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost urged union leaders to put the amended contract back before its unions for a vote instead of taking legal action.

"A lawsuit is not needed to correct a mistake," she said in a statement.

Trost said the paid family leave provision would add an additional six weeks of paid leave to the three to six weeks of paid vacation, 13 holidays and 12 sick days employees will already receive.

"District negotiators would never have knowingly agreed to such a financially backbreaking proposal," she said, adding that BART would review the lawsuit over the next several days.

The commuter rail system serves more than 400,000 riders a day in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and nearby suburbs. When union members went on strike in July and again in October, commuters faced hours of delays and were forced to stay home or be late to work and school.

Union attorney Kerianne Steele said the unions were "not ruling out options," including striking again, before reaching a contract agreement with BART.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Ken Wills)

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