After the news broke late last week that BART's Board of Directors was planning to reject a tentative deal that its own negotiating team had reached with the transit agency's unions, much of the attention focused on a disputed family medical leave provision. BART officials say they made a "mistake" when they agreed earlier this year to a six-week paid family leave benefit, because they contend it will be too costly. In truth, however, the real mistake the BART board made came more than two years ago when it hired Grace Crunican to be the agency's general manager.
Crunican, who had no experience overseeing a rail line, promptly ignored warnings about safety at BART from state regulators, and then ultimately presided over a deadly crash that killed two workers last month. She also convinced BART's board earlier this year to hire a contract negotiator who works for a private transportation company that has a history of union busting and illegal behavior. And that negotiator, Thomas Hock, quickly alienated BART union members, portraying them as greedy and out of touch, and then went absent during critical stages of the negotiations — but not before signing the family leave provision that could lead to a third BART strike this year.
In retrospect, Crunican was simply not qualified for the job — and still isn't. Although she had been the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation for eight years, that agency does not oversee rail transit in the Seattle area. And then once she arrived at BART, Crunican has continued the agency's tradition of ignoring safety warnings issued by the state. California regulators had long been concerned about a BART rule that required track workers to effectively fend for themselves when trains were in operation. The state repeatedly recommended that BART end the practice, but the agency steadfastly refused — a dangerous tradition that Crunican embraced.
Then in April, as the contracts for two of BART's major unions — ATU and SEIU — were on the verge of expiring, Crunican asked the BART board to hire Hock, a lawyer for Veolia Transportation, a private transportation company. At the time, BART's in-house labor relations manager was handling union negotiations, but in a memo to the BART board, Crunican's staff said she had "determined it to be in the best interest of the District to hire a consultant [Hock] to provide traditional bargaining services" and pay him $300,000 for a few months of work.
According to records of the April 11 BART meeting, there is no indication that Crunican told the BART board that Hock and Veolia Transportation have a long history of illegal behavior, as the Express noted earlier this year. Veolia also has a strong interest in privatizing public transportation systems: It holds the private contracts to run the transportation systems in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona, which both endured a six-day bus strike in 2012 that unions blamed squarely on Hock. "Tom Hock was the cause of the strike here in Phoenix and Tempe," Bob Bean, president of the ATU in Arizona, told Express contributor Darwin BondGraham earlier this year. "Hock's not a negotiator. All he knows how to say is 'no.' He does not try and solve any issues."
Hock's typical strategy in union negotiations is to portray union members as being overly greedy and unreasonable. He took the same approach at BART. John Logan, a professor of labor relations at San Francisco State University who closely watched this year's BART negotiations, recently described Hock's attitude as being "poisonous." Union members, as a result, grew angry at the way they were being portrayed to the public, and then hardened their negotiating positions, leading to a prolonged, ugly stalemate and two strikes.
Hock also made matters worse by going AWOL during much of the negotiations, saying he was "unavailable," even though taxpayers were paying him $300,000 to reach a deal at the bargaining table. Crunican was no better. She repeatedly refused to sit down with union leaders to hash out their differences despite several requests to do so.
Then last month, during the second strike, Crunican green-lighted the decision to train BART managers to drive trains in place of experienced union drivers. It was during one of these training runs that two longtime workers were killed in a crash between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations. And it wasn't until after the crash that Crunican, Hock, and BART reached a tentative deal with the unions. After the deaths, the agency also finally abandoned its rule of forcing track workers to be responsible for their own safety.
However, after Hock signed the tentative deal, Crunican's staff said they discovered that he had made a "mistake" by agreeing to the family medical leave provision and that the BART board had never intended to agree to it. This assertion appears to be highly dubious. The San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this week that Hock actually signed off on the provision three months earlier, in July, and so Crunican, who makes $322,000 a year plus benefits, must have been aware of it. If not, then, at minimum, she's guilty of incompetence or gross negligence.
Although BART has since terminated Hock's contract, the unions say they have no intention of renegotiating the deal. They contend that the agreement on the family leave benefit was no mistake and that Hock was well aware of what he was doing. However, if the BART board continues to refuse to agree to the tentative deal, then the transit agency will face yet another stalemate — and a possible third strike.
In other words, Crunican's actions have proved definitively that she's ill suited to run an agency as important as BART. As such, she should resign. And if she refuses, the BART board owes it to the public to fire her and find a qualified replacement.