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San Francisco rail board wants to reopen talks, angering unions

A man turns away at the Powell Street station after learning of a strike by employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco,
A man turns away at the Powell Street station after learning of a strike by employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco,

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Managers of the San Francisco-area commuter rail system said on Friday they wanted to reopen talks on part of a deal that ended a crippling October strike, drawing an angry response from unions.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency's board said it needed to take out one costly provision in the agreement that had been included in error.

Union chiefs accused the board of going back on its word, but stopped short of threatening to repeat the walkout, which paralyzed the nation's fifth largest commuter rail system and forced commuters onto already jammed roads.

The board said in a statement the agency had never intended to include a provision on family medical leave which would be too expensive to administer over the four-year deal.

"We are not comfortable with the potential liability that could result from the adoption of this contract provision," the board statement said.

The board said it had directed its general manager "to go back to the bargaining table and continue a discussion with union officials in an attempt to resolve the matter".

BART officials wrangled with two unions representing more than 2,000 employees for months over wages, benefits and workplace rules.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1555 voted to approve the agreement.

SEIU Local 1021 Executive Director Pete Castelli said there had been no confusion over the wording of the deal.

"After telling the thousands of riders and their workers that we had a fair agreement, BART management has pulled the rug from underneath the unions and the Bay Area today by going back on their word and urging the BART board of directors to turn this agreement down," Castelli said in a statement.

"We negotiated in good faith for six months. BART management is now attempting to go back on agreements it made in July and August and that were part of the final deal. This is unconscionable," said ATU 1555 President Antonette Bryant.

The commuter rail system serves more than 400,000 riders a day in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and suburbs.

(Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by David Bailey and Andrew Heavens)

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