(Adds details on dispute and previous action by governor)
By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO Oct 11 A strike that could
cripple the San Francisco Bay Area's commuter rail system has
been averted for the weekend as contract talks continue, but
workers could walk off the job on Monday if a deal is not
reached, union leaders said.
The announcement that talks would continue through the
weekend came late on Thursday, just minutes before the end of a
60-day cooling off period obtained in court by California
Governor Jerry Brown that had blocked a strike on the Bay Area
Rapid Transit system, which serves 400,000 daily riders.
Talks resumed on Friday morning, BART spokesman Rick Rice
and union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro said in separate
statements. BART trains were running on schedule while the talks
"We remain hopeful that our good-faith effort will be met by
their good-faith effort," said Roxanne Sanchez, president of the
Service Employees International Union Local 1021. "If there is
no agreement by Sunday (midnight), there would be a strike."
Pay and pension benefits are main issues in the talks, said
John Logan, director of San Francisco State University's labor
and employment studies program who has sat in on negotiations on
the side of the union.
Leaders of the two biggest unions involved in the talks, the
SEIU and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which together represent
more than 2,000 BART workers, have said they hope to avoid a
BART and the unions are tens of millions of dollars apart in
their negotiations, Tom Hock, BART's chief negotiator, told
reporters on Thursday. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555
negotiator Chris Finn put the gap at less than $21 million.
On Monday, a federal mediator assigned to the negotiations
barred the two sides from releasing details on the contract
talks, Isidro said.
In its last known proposal, BART offered employees a 10.25
percent raise over four years, Rice said, adding that "there has
been movement" since the last publicly made proposal.
BART had also sought to have employees contribute to their
pensions, starting at 1 percent in the first year of the
contract and growing to 4 percent in the fourth year, he said.
The agency wanted a cap on its health plan costs, he said.
The unions had 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. The unions say they are ready to have
workers contribute more to their healthcare.
BART management has said the average employee gets an annual
salary of $79,500 plus $50,800 in benefits, and it is concerned
the cost of benefits will continue to climb after increasing by
nearly 200 percent in 10 years. The unions peg the average
worker salary, excluding managers, lower at $64,000.
A strike on Monday would mark the second time this year that
a job action has shut down the BART system. A strike in July
lasted four and a half days, creating severe traffic problems
and forcing commuters to miss work or crowd onto a limited
number of other public transportation options.
BART's strike-contingency plan includes chartering buses
with the capability of carrying 6,000 passengers per day,
according to a statement posted on Thursday on its website.
Brown, a Democrat, cannot seek a court order for another
60-day cooling off period in these labor talks because under
state law he is only allowed to obtain the one such period, said
Brown's spokesman Evan Westrup.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and