SF-area transit strike averted -- at least for day
By TERRY COLLINS
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- San Francisco Bay Area commuters faced another day of uncertainty Monday as a major regional transit agency and two of its largest unions held talks under the ever-present threat of a strike.
"I am so frustrated with the way they've been holding the riders hostage," said commuter Toba Villatore, 45, of San Francisco as she headed to work. "I'm tired of staying up until midnight wondering if there's going to be a strike or not."
Representatives of Bay Area Rapid Transit and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 resumed negotiations Monday afternoon only hours after tense negotiations ended around 3 a.m.
The overnight talks came after the union backed off a threatened midnight strike deadline, giving management a 24-hour reprieve from what would have been the second strike in more than three months. Trains were running as usual Monday.
Sticking points in the 6-month-old negotiations include salaries and workers' contributions to their health and pension plans.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican said Sunday that the "last best and final offer" presented to the unions then was $7 million higher than Friday's proposal. It includes an annual 3 percent raise over four years and requires workers to contribute 4 percent toward their pension and 9.5 percent toward medical benefits.
Workers from the two unions, which represent more than 2,300 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical staff, now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually, the transit agency said. BART workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions.
Josie Mooney, a chief negotiator for SEIU, said before Monday discussions that the parties are about $16 million apart over four years.
"It doesn't make any sense to issue a last, best and final offer that they knew in advance that we would not be able to accept," Mooney said. "Effectively, their offer is pretty much the same as it has been for the last 60 days."
Crunican said the unions have two weeks from Sunday to accept the deal before it is taken off the table.
"It is time to bring this to a close. The Bay Area is tired of going to bed at night and not knowing if BART is going to be open or not," Crunican said.
BART workers went on strike for nearly five days in July and were about to on Friday when a 60-day cooling-off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown expired, but continued negotiating over the weekend.
Ridership was light on Monday because of strike fears and the Columbus Day holiday.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement Monday that "people's very livelihoods hang in the balance," which only compounds the frustration.
ATU President Antonette Bryant complained that BART presented a last, final offer Sunday afternoon just as the parties came close to reaching a full agreement. On Monday, she said BART's latest offer is a decrease from an offer presented Friday.
"This 12 percent ends up at maybe 1 percent when you consider all the givebacks they are asking for," Bryant said. "That is not a raise."
SEIU 1021 executive director Pete Castelli said Sunday while the parties made progress on pay, pension and health care benefits they also were still at odds on issues related to work rules.
About 400,000 riders take BART every weekday on the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system.
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