Independent investigators analyzing BART’s recent turmultuous, rollercoaster-ride labor negotiations issued their report yesterday, concluding that last year’s pair of damaging strikes could and should been avoided. The opinions that the analysts collected from the unions, management, and BART’s Board of Directors covered a wide spectrum, but there were a couple of common themes.
First, the strikes and the death of two BART workers who were killed on the tracks when BART management ran scab-run trains while the workers were on strike, were devastating to the district and its personnel.
“We just walked out of a war,” one anonymous BART employee (or manager) told the report authors. Other anonymous quotes follow a similar theme: “It was like Vietnam… Labor massacare… The bloodiest strike ever… He was our hired gun… They threw bombs.”
The second thing everyone agreed on, from management to the unions, was that hiring union-buster labor consultant Tom Hock as a negotiator was a bad idea.
“I think a lot of the stakeholders involved and unions have identified that Tom Hock was the problem,” Tom Radulovich, a BART board director, told the Guardian. “This (report) validates my concerns. They talked to everybody.”
Agreement Dynamics Inc., who conducted the investigation on behalf of the BART board, did in-depth interviews with a multitude of BART union representatives, employees, managers, and labor negotiators. Through the report, Agreement Dynamics found a culture of distrust between labor and management that they described as entrenched and multi-generational. On top of that already potent powder-keg, Hock was hired as a negotiator. Seven board directors cast “aye” votes to hire Hock, including Radulovich. Directors Fang and Murray were absent from the room at the time of the vote.
According to the report, Hock came in with guns blazing. Mixing that attitude with what the report describes as BART General Manager Grace Crunican’s lack of experience in labor negotiations, and there was a perfect recipe for conflict.
“When Tom Hock took over as chief negotiator, Grace had become hard line,” one source told Agreement Dynamics. “There wasn’t enough trust built… Tom Hock thought a strike was inevitable. I don’t know how we thought we could win. We did not even have the whole board supporting this.”
But despite the lack of groundswell support, Hock perpetuated a strategy to push the unions to strike, according to the source.
“Tom pushed it to strike because Grace would not budge financially,” the source said. “So Tom said to Grace, ‘You will have to strike with your position.’ Management thought we could win the PR battle and the unions would cave. But the unions had politicians. The press can turn on a dime. They did and our strategy backfired.”
Two managers told Agreement Dynamics that lack of planning exacerbated this problem.
“We did not have a Plan B to prevent a strike,” one manager told the investigators. Another told them, “This strike was not productive. We never did a course correction and then there was another strike. Two people got killed. We spent millions to end up getting creamed, and engendering hate.”
In interviews with the investigators, Hock told them he believed the strike would be very short and the unions would “have to come back and reach an agreement” before management would have to give in. He based this on the Bay Area’s sentiment against the unions, the report wrote. He told investigators that media reports also heavily favored management’s perspective. (The report also outlines how management believed their ‘good strategy’ helped sway big media, like the San Francisco Chronicle, to take their side. Good job, guys.)
The negotiators were told by Hock that a number of factors led to the strike, as he tried to deflect blame. But the report’s analysis said “the conditions cited by Tom Hock (elected board, politically strong unions, ineperience in labor negotiations) have existed in prior negotiations when no strike resulted.”
So Hock pushed the unions to strike, the same strike that led to two workers’ deaths, the report seemingly implies. But that was not his only misstep, according to the report. He also didn’t read the contract he signed off on.
After labor negotiations concluded, BART management brought celebrations to a screeching halt. For those that remember, a provision on family medical leave, section 4.8 of the labor contract, was disputed by BART management. They said they never signed that provision, which could cost BART upwards of $40 million in sick leave, if approved.
BART management said it signed the provision due to a “clerical error,” which BART board director Zachary Mallet confirmed to the San Jose Mercury News. “The cause of this incident has been confirmed as a miscommunication-based clerical error during the write-up of a tentative agreement,” Mallet told the Merc.
But Hock and district negotiators Paul Oversier and Rudy Medina all told Agreement Dynamics that they signed it without reading it. “If Tom Hock had read it before he signed it, 4.8 would not have happened,” one BART staff member told the investigators.
But as much as Hock comes under fire in this report, the report also found that he came at a time of deep division between labor and management. The report shows a way out for that: leadership from the BART Board of Directors. Radulovich told the Guardian he agrees. The board must take the reins in righting the historic bad blood between all sides at BART.
“A lot of it is the culture of your organization,” he said. “When I was a baby BART director, [employees and management] were complaining about things that happened back in 1979. You do feel like you’re walking in on a fight going on long before you got there, and going on long after you leave.”
“That antagonism has been there from the beginning,” he told us. “The question I ask myself is: how can I change that?”
Tomorrow morning at a press conference at 9am, some of the BART board will present the report and talk about its findings. Maybe we’ll find those answers then.