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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

BART Is Shelling Out $15K a Month on PR for Labor Dispute

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2013 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Who wins? - MIKE KOOZMIN/SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner
  • Who wins?

A labor fight is somewhat like a divorce. Your dirty laundry and finances are aired in public over months -- or years -- of ugly strife and even uglier squabbling, after which you end up with less than you had hoped.

But at least with a divorce you end up single, which makes a labor struggle that much worse: BART and its two biggest unions are in it for the long haul, and -- whether or not the trains are halted for a second strike on Monday -- must make nice after what's been, according to one of the negotiators at the table "the most acrimonious" labor dispute in recent memory.

Divorces are also expensive. BART's internal struggle is less so, but it's not free. While it's about 0.001 percent of its annual budget, since March, the transit agency has spent $15,000 a month on public-relations specialists hired specifically for its labor dispute.

And it appears these contracts were awarded without ever being put out to bid.

First, The negotiator. BART's unions have made as much hay as possible out of the hiring of Ohio-based lawyer Tom Hock as BART's top man at the bargaining table. Hock earns $350 hourly, and that could add up to as much as $399,000 for his services to BART -- which is negotiating with SEIU Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, the two unions which went on strike July 1. (BART's in-house labor team negotiated with the other three unions, who represent police and managers, none of whom went on strike).

Hock is vice president of Veolia Transportation, a private company than runs public transit in some cities, and last year settled with federal authorities over accusations of illegal labor practices, the East Bay Express reported.

BART is also paying for Hock's travel and accommodations while in the Bay Area, records show.

Tom Hock
  • Tom Hock

For the unions, Hock is public enemy no. 1. They say he's a "no-man," -- which means he's like the epitome of a "good" parent, who greets every request for more TV or ice cream with "no." He also took some flack for going on vacation during negotiations last week. Whether he's as bad as they say, we can't confirm since Hock has yet to engage with the media. Though he is nothing, if not strong-willed: Hock and BART haven't changed their offer to SEIU Local 1021 and ATU 1555 since July 2, Day 2 of the strike that went on pause July 5.

BART hired Hock for labor negotiations in 2001. A public records request for communications between Hock and BART this time around was rejected by the agency.

Then there's the PR crew. BART has its own in-house communications team of three people, but on April 5, BART hired the legendary master of spin Sam Singer.

Singer has made a name for himself as the go-to guy for crisis communications, representing everyone from Chevron to the San Francisco Zoo following in its fatal tiger attack in 2007. Singer's firm -- which created -- earned $15,000 a month, records show, until June 30, when the torch was passed.

The man now is Rick Rice, a Marin-based corporate communications consultant who was hired June 21 at the same rate of $15,000 a month, records show. Today is the end of July, which means BART has to date spent roughly $60,000 on outside spokesmen during labor negotiations.

Unlike construction or other contracts, these appear to have been awarded without being put out to bid. A search of BART's recently awarded contracts reveals none of these. When reached via e-mail, Singer declined to comment.

The contracts awarded to Rice and Singer were a maximum of $60,000 -- or roughly the compensation of a station agent.

Of course, the unions have brought in their own people, too. SEIU's lead negotiator is Josie Mooney, the former head of the SF Labor Council who made some enemies in union circles during an ugly fight and eventual schism over healthcare workers.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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