Although BART workers are back on the job and trains have been running again for the past several days, the transit agency and its unionized employees remain far apart in negotiations. The Bay Area, as a result, could very well be looking at another strike in less than a month. To date, BART management has sought to portray the agency's train operators and station agents as being greedy and unreasonable for demanding pay raises. But what has gone unnoticed is the fact that BART management's lead negotiator and strategist, Thomas P. Hock, works for a private transportation company that has a long history of anti-union practices. Records also show that Hock and Veolia Transportation have repeatedly run afoul of federal labor laws and were previously ordered by federal authorities to stop engaging in illegal activities.
It is unclear why the BART board decided in April to hire Hock as lead negotiator and pay him $300,000. BART board members declined to comment about Hock's contract. The agency's agreement with Hock, who is a lawyer for Veolia Transportation, calls for him to "implement the labor relations strategy for 2013 collective bargaining with ATU [Amalgamated Transit Union] and SEIU [Service Employees International Union]." Under the agreement, Hock has substantial authority in the current negotiations, and is outranked only by BART General Manager Grace Crunican.
Members of both SEIU and ATU say that Hock's true labor relations strategy for BART is to bust its unions and make permanent the pay and benefits rollbacks that workers have endured in recent years. They believe Hock was brought in not to negotiate, but to create a crisis. "This is not about negotiating tough. This is about trying to bust the union," said Chris Finn, a BART train operator and the recording secretary of ATU 1555.
BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said she's not privy to the BART board's deliberations regarding the details of labor negotiations, including the board's reasons for hiring Hock in particular, as those sessions are closed to all except the board and its lawyers. "We've used an outside consultant as our lead negotiator in every single negotiation in our history," Trost said. "It's standard practice in the industry to use an outside expert to help navigate the negotiations process."
Trost also said that Hock's negotiations record includes only two strikes in the last five years. "He's negotiated more than four hundred contracts in his career," she said. "That is a tremendous record. You're always going to have something that goes awry, but he's well respected in the industry."
However, recent events in Arizona support some of the unions' claims that Hock's true goal may be to force a crisis at BART. Last year, transit workers in Phoenix and Tempe staged a six-day strike against Veolia Transportation. Arizona's cities have privatized their bus operations, and Veolia holds the contracts. Hock led his company's campaign against its workers. It was a bruising fight that required the intervention of federal authorities.
In hearings before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Veolia was found to have engaged in "regressive, bad-faith, and surface bargaining," and numerous other unfair labor practices prior to the Phoenix bus strike. Hock was in charge at the time.
The general counsel for the NLRB listed the numerous allegations of abuses committed by Veolia in a lengthy letter to NLRB board members. Veolia was accused of violating federal labor laws by "failing to provide information requested by the Union." Unions routinely ask employers for information during contract talks — requests that are normally complied with. The allegation that Veolia withheld information crucial to collective bargaining in Arizona in 2011 and 2012 is echoed by union lawyers here as well.
In a lawsuit filed by SEIU and ATU on June 24 in Alameda County Superior Court, the unions alleged that BART has engaged in concerted illegal practices to obstruct progress in the negotiations. SEIU and ATU's lawsuit states that BART refused, delayed, or ignored ten different requests made by the union in October 2012 for information necessary for bargaining.
ATU and SEIU's lawsuit against BART also alleges that BART management sought to "delay bargaining from the outset and create a false sense of crisis." Lawyers for the unions added that, in communications with BART management back in April, when workers were ready to bargain, BART "revealed that Hock was not yet available to begin bargaining, leading ATU and SEIU to believe that BART had been delaying bargaining because of Hock's unavailability."
In Arizona, federal authorities also accused Veolia of "refusing to meet with the Union for purposes of negotiating a successor collective-bargaining agreement, engaging in regressive bargaining, and bargaining with no intent of reaching an agreement," among many other practices that are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act.
The NLRB found merit to this extensive list of charges against Veolia during the Arizona bus strike. Veolia signed a settlement agreement with authorities promising to cease all of these illegal activities. The company, however, ignored its obligations under the settlement and continued to carry out the alleged illegal conduct, according to records filed with the NLRB.
The NLRB's general counsel warned Veolia in several letters, one of which was sent to Veolia's lawyers. "The investigation of the recently filed charges, as well as the investigation into your client's compliance with the Agreement shows that your client has not complied with all terms of the Agreement," wrote Mary Davidson, an NLRB field attorney. "[Y]our client is in non-compliance with the Agreement. Such non-compliance triggers the default language set forth in the Agreement."
Only by threatening Veolia with a federally mandated default settlement did the company back down and agree to a deal with its employees that ended the strike.
Hock was quoted in the local media during the Phoenix and Tempe bus strikes, claiming that the unions caused thousands of commuters to wait countless hours on the curb. Part of Hock's strategy during the Phoenix bus strike was to cast the bus drivers as greedy and out of touch with the public. Hock and Veolia pointed out that "drivers in the Phoenix area are the highest paid in the Valley, earning an average of $22 per hour," according to a report in The Arizona Republic.
"Tom Hock was the cause of the strike here in Phoenix and Tempe," Bob Bean, president of the ATU in Arizona, told me. "Hock's not a negotiator. All he knows how to say is 'no.' He does not try and solve any issues."
Bean believes Hock was aiming all along to break the ATU in Arizona, not to find any common ground with the workers. "Hock was trying to take away all our benefits and everything we earned over 38 years of negotiations," said Bean. "If Hock can bust a union, he will."
Federal labor records and press reports from previous years suggest that Hock has devised similar brass-knuckle strategies across the nation. For example, in 1997 unionized paratransit bus drivers in Los Angeles filed complaints against First Transit Inc., alleging that the company had refused to bargain and bargained in bad faith, and that the company's management had coerced employees, spied on them, and illegally terminated 30 employees, costing them approximately $930,000 in lost wages. Hock was First Transit's chief negotiator at the time. The NLRB ultimately ruled in favor of the employees and their union, forcing payment of the back wages, but only after a decade of battle.
Last year in Connecticut, Veolia attempted to use a technicality to disqualify employees from joining a union by reclassifying their jobs as supervisory positions. The NLRB rejected this tactic and allowed for a union election to proceed.
In Las Vegas last year, bus drivers accused Veolia again of retaliation and firings of union employees, and of refusing to furnish the existing union, ATU Local 1637, with information necessary to conduct negotiations. Again, federal authorities intervened. The NLRB sided with ATU, ordering Veolia to "cease and desist from refusing to bargain collectively." The board also ordered Veolia to stop "interfering with, restraining or coercing its employees in the exercise of their right to self-organization."
"Hock shops himself around the American Public Transportation Association conferences and Veolia gets a cut of whatever he's making as an advisor to different transit agencies during their contract negotiations," said Bean. Last year, Hock attended the Transit CEO's Seminar hosted by the American Public Transportation Association in Orlando, Florida as a speaker. BART General Manager Crunican and other public transit executives were also on hand.
Veolia is a transnational corporation headquartered in France. Its North American subsidiary, Veolia Environment, of which transportation is a segment, specializes in operating utilities and transit systems for cities. Hock's role within Veolia is to advise both private and public transit operators on labor issues. He became a vice president of Veolia in 2008 when Veolia purchased his Cincinnati-based company, Professional Transit Management. At the time, Hock's company ran the transit systems of fifteen different cities. Records show that employees of Professional Transit Management have filed 51 complaints against the company before the NLRB since 2001, alleging that Hock's firm refused to bargain, bargained in bad faith, spied on employees, made coercive statements, and illegally fired or punished employees for engaging in union activities.
Hock is not the only Veolia asset tapped by BART. Both AC Transit and BART contract with Veolia to operate the East Bay Paratransit bus system. That contract is worth $232 million. BART pays $133 million of that.
"Every action that BART takes confirms to us that they have no interest in resolving this fairly or quickly," said SEIU 1021's executive director Pete Castelli during a press conference last Thursday. "It's clear that their only agenda is to reach a point to impose the contract on the workers and to weaken the union."
Arizona bus drivers' union leader Bean said, "Hock is doing the same thing out there in California he did here. He's got a track record."