Clock ticking on possible BART strike

AP Photo/Eric RisbergA traffic sign on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge alerts motorists to expect delays because of the BART transit strike Monday

With a midnight strike deadline just hours away and public frustration mounting, negotiators for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and its two unions resumed contract talks Sunday as nervous commuters scouted alternate ways of getting to work.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 have vowed to walk off the job Monday morning if no new labor agreement is reached by midnight.

BART workers went on strike for nearly five days in July and were set to do so again Friday when a cooling-off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown ended, but they agreed to negotiate through the weekend.

Nearly 370,000 riders take BART every weekday, and its 104 miles of track make it the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system.

In a sign of how seriously another shutdown is looming over the region, state lawmakers from the Bay Area and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom dropped by the talks Sunday to encourage the two sides to reach a resolution.

BART and union representatives said in the late afternoon that they were still hopeful a strike could be averted.

Sticking points in the 6-month-old negotiations include salaries and workers' contributions to their health and pension plans. BART workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions — generous benefits BART management is seeking to curtail.

The unions, which represent 2,375 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical workers, want a raise of nearly 12 percent over three years, while BART has proposed a 10 percent increase over four years. Workers from the two unions now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually, BART said.

Labor leaders also are pressing demands to make stations safer, such as better lighting in tunnels, bulletproof glass in agents' booths and improved restroom access.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the negotiating teams met separately and face-to-face Sunday while reviewing and fine-tuning their respective proposals.

No details on the latest offers or the pace of progress were released, however, at the mediator's request.

If a strike is called for Monday, BART is planning to offer free bus trips between San Francisco and the East Bay, and ferry service to the city would be expanded. But people who travel on the system's north-to-south routes in the East Bay would be stranded, and freeway traffic is expected become snarled as more commuters opt to take cars.

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