UPDATE 1- San Francisco transit strike averted again as talks wear on
(Updates with no strike on Tuesday night)
SAN FRANCISCO Oct 15 (Reuters) - Unions agreed late on Tuesday to put off a potentially crippling San Francisco-area rail strike for a third day in a row, as talks with management wore on late into the night without an agreement.
The largest of two unions representing more than 2,000 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) drivers and staff said there had been some progress towards a deal on pay and contracts and trains would run as normal on Wednesday.
"We are encouraged by the progress we've achieved, and at the request of the federal mediators, we will continue to bargain," said Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro.
About 400,000 passengers from San Francisco and surrounding areas rely on the rail system every day.
A strike would force them onto buses and other already-busy commuter routes, though a union representing workers at the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Agency, on Monday notified its management it could call a strike as soon as Thursday.
The 2,000 BART drivers and staff have been working without a contract since June 30, and their unions have repeatedly said they were prepared to walk off the job if no deal was reached.
Two midnight deadlines for a strike have already come and gone since Sunday with no agreement.
Management has offered a 12 percent pay raise over four years for workers, and say they make an average of $79,000 plus benefits. The unions peg the average worker salary lower at $64,000, excluding manager pay.
The unions also point out that San Francisco and nearby Oakland are both among the 10 most expensive U.S. cities. Because the management offer also includes a demand that employees pay a portion of their medical and retirement benefit costs, some of the 12 percent offered in raises would be immediately swallowed up by those contributions.
The unions had initially asked for a three-year contract, with a 3.75 percent raise in each of the first two years and a 4 percent raise in the last year.
BART spokesman Rick Rice has said the transit system wanted workers to contribute to pensions, starting at 1 percent in the first year and growing to 4 percent in the fourth. The agency also wanted a cap on its healthcare costs, he said.
Bay Area commuters had a taste of the havoc a transit strike could bring in July, when BART employees walked off the job after their contract first expired. A strike was again threatened in August before Democratic Governor Jerry Brown intervened to seek a 60-day cooling-off period, now expired. (Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Andrew Heavens)
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