BART and unions making progress, trains will run today

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. ExaminerA broken section of rail that led to major BART delays could be from a batch of bad rail

Trains will be running this morning.

Negotiations between BART and its two biggest unions stretched past midnight Monday and into Tuesday morning, but it was announced about 1 a.m. that train service would begin as normal at 4 a.m. today.

George Cohen, head of mediation for the federal government, said both sides were making progress in their months-long labor dispute in hopes of avoiding a second work stoppage in a little more than three months.

A strike — which was dangled in front of Bay Area commuters Thursday and Sunday nights before Monday’s “final” deadline — seemed all but certain to begin today after the transit agency’s “last, best and final” offer was rejected by workers, who also submitted a counteroffer late Monday.

BART is the nation’s fifth-largest transit agency — and the Bay Area’s most vital — handling some 400,000 daily boardings.

The transit agency has been prepared to spend about $225,000 a day on very limited bus service from the East Bay to The City, but has no contingency transit for Peninsula-based commuters or people traveling within the East Bay.

For six months, BART and its unions — Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — have bickered over pay increases and the cost of benefits in what elected officials, labor leaders and other observers have described as the most acrimonious labor struggle in recent memory.

The transit agency, which spends more than $400 million of its $1.6 billion budget on wages and benefits, is seeking savings from its unions to help pay for billions of dollars in system upgrades — a bill that will also require a voter-approved bond issuance or a tax increase to pay off.

BART workers, who agreed to $100 million in concessions in 2009 to cover a projected deficit that never materialized, said BART’s offer would leave take-home pay flat and pointed to an annual operating surplus of more than $100 million as proof that the agency can afford what the unions want.

What BART called its “last, best and final offer,” delivered Sunday, seemed its most generous yet, with 3 percent annual raises over a four-year term coupled with increased employee contributions to pensions and health care costs. It would cost the transit agency $57 million over the length of the deal, a BART spokeswoman said.

It also included “regressive” changes to contentious work rules. If presented to union rank-and-file, those rules would be rejected outright and lead to a strike, union leaders told The San Francisco Examiner.

BART and its unions have been without a contract since June 30. Workers went on a 4½-day strike July 1 before returning to work, first under a monthlong truce agreed to by both sides, then under a 60-day “cooling-off period” imposed by a judge at Gov. Jerry Brown’s request.

That period expired Thursday.

Transit issues keep Mayor Ed Lee home

Mayor Ed Lee’s trade mission to China touched down in Beijing on Monday without its centerpiece.

BART’s ongoing labor woes led Lee to delay his departure to China with a 76-person “trade and friendship” mission.

Lee — the first Chinese-American mayor of a major American city — has no role in the negotiations. Instead, he wants to stay behind to make sure transit and traffic in San Francisco move smoothly in the event of a strike, according to Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for Lee.

The renewal of sister-city agreements with Shanghai and several meetings are on the trip’s official agenda, but guests also will have the chance to meet with investors — who are much more likely to sink money into development projects like the Giants’ Mission Rock with heads of government on hand.

Without Lee, the show will go on, although it’s uncertain how much business can get done.

This trip was to be Lee’s second of the year to China, and second to the country as mayor.

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