The hard feelings that marked BART’s contract talks with its union resurfaced today when the transit agency’s board honored two workers who were struck and killed by a train on tracks between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations on Saturday.
BART directors voted unanimously to approve resolutions expressing their grief for the deaths of 66-year-old Laurence Daniels and 58-year-old Christopher Sheppard and for the contributions they made during their careers.
But before the board voted, union members and others criticized BART’s management and board, alleging that their decision to train managers to run trains in the event of an extended strike contributed to the deaths of Daniels and Sheppard.
Their deaths on Saturday occurred during the second day of a BART worker strike that began on Friday and ended Tuesday morning after a tentative agreement was reached.
Antonette Bryant, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents BART train operators and station agents, said she is “heartbroken” by the deaths of Daniels and Sheppard and Daniels and blamed their deaths on what she described as the “arrogance and negligence” of BART’s management and board.
“These two men should not have died and the contract should have been resolved last week,” Bryant said.
She told the board and General Manager Grace Crunican, “You know this was part of contract talks” and blamed the men’s deaths on “people who had no respect for workers and tried to break the union.”
Bryant said, “This was not an accident. There were untrained people who were operating a train and these men died unnecessarily.”
Doris Collier, a BART train operator for 23 years, said having untrained people run trains is like “allowing a stranger to come into your house and abuse your children.”
Steve Zeltzer of United Public Workers for Action, a group of union members, students and community members, said the deaths of Daniels and Sheppard should be treated as a criminal act and the people responsible for them should be prosecuted.
“These people should go to prison for what they did,” Zeltzer said.
But BART Director Gail Murray of Walnut Creek said she was upset at the angry criticism today, saying she offered the resolution because, “We needed some formal way of honoring” Daniels and Sheppard.
“This should be their time, not a vitriolic time,” Murray said. “I thought this would be a quiet time for them and not filled with all the vitriol.”
Former BART Director Robert Allen said, “I find it peculiar that people in the union talk so much before we find out the facts” and said people should withhold their judgment until an investigation into the incident is completed.
Patricia Schuchardt, the president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993, which represents about 200 BART professional employees, including train control supervisors, said after the meeting that she’s upset that BART directors and managers “didn’t reach out to me as president” of the union after Daniels and Sheppard were killed.
Fighting back tears, Schuchardt said, “Not one of the directors called me.”
Bryant said the relationship between BART’s management and its labor unions is “extremely fractured” and it will take a lot of work to repair it.
Although a tentative agreement on a new contract was announced on Monday night, Bryant said ATU Local 1555 hasn’t yet set a date for its members to vote on it.
Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News