San Francisco Transit Strike Looms as Time for Deal Ebbs

San Francisco-area commuters who suffered through a four-day Bay Area Rapid Transit strike in July may confront a second dose as workers are freed to walk out if they don’t have a new contract by midnight.

Disagreements over wages and pension and health-care contributions have kept the two sides from a new accord to replace one that expired June 30. A resumption of the strike had been blocked by a court-ordered cooling-off period that expires at 11:59 local time tonight.

“We’re hopeful we can find a negotiated settlement before that,” Jim Allison, a transit spokesman, said by telephone yesterday. “We want to talk until we get a deal.”

BART, as the fifth-largest U.S. commuter rail system is known, carries about 400,000 riders a day across the San Francisco-Oakland region. The strike in July jammed freeways and forced people into carpools and long queues for buses and ferries, while thousands of others simply stayed home. It was BART’s first such job action since 1997.

Josie Mooney, chief negotiator for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said she couldn’t discuss the talks because of a gag order from a mediator.

“We’ve listened to the public and we share their concern about a disruption in service at the end of the cooling-off period,” she said by telephone.

Union representatives delivered a 72-hour strike notice to BART management before walking out July 1. They issued a similar notice in August before Governor Jerry Brown, a 75-year-old Democrat, sought a court order for the 60-day stay. No new notice has been issued.

‘Every Opportunity’

“We do not want a strike, which is why we are not giving a 72-hour notice at this time,” Mooney said. “We want to leave every opportunity open to try to get this deal done.”

The four-day work stoppage that began July 1 cost the Bay Area economy $70 million, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in August.

“A strike will have significant impacts to our entire regional economy and derail the hard-fought progress we’ve made to rebuild our economy,” Lee said in an Oct. 8 meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Brown, speaking to reporters Sept. 25 in Oakland, called on both sides “to get serious, make the concessions needed and keep that BART running.”

About 3,250 people work for BART, which pays an average of $79,500 a year to its employees, who also receive $50,800 in benefits annually, according to the agency’s website.

Its major unions are SEIU, representing mechanics and clerical employees, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, which bargains for train operators and station agents.

The BART system opened in 1972 and connects the region’s biggest cities, including Berkeley and Oakland, as well as San Francisco International Airport. Its last strike, in 1997, lasted six days.

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