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SF area transit strike looms hours before deadline

Source : AP
Last Updated: Tue, Oct 15, 2013 06:45 hrs

A San Francisco Bay Area transit system and its two largest unions were negotiating right up to a midnight deadline Monday as fear of a second gridlock-inducing strike in three months intensified.

The parties held talks throughout the day after the unions backed off a threatened strike deadline late Sunday and gave Bay Area Rapid Transit managers a 24-hour reprieve. But by late afternoon it appeared that both sides were remaining firm in their positions.

BART board president Tom Radulovich urged representatives of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 to let its more than 2,300 members vote on the agency's final offer presented Sunday.

"We've been at this for a total of 150 days at this point and we think it's time for the union leadership to let us know, to let the people in the Bay Area know whether they are going to take an offer to their membership," Radulovich said.

But SEIU 1021 executive director Pete Castelli said the unions remained unhappy with BART's last offer. He said the unions presented a counteroffer to management late Monday and warned that the strike deadline still stands. He told commuters to consider transportation alternatives in the morning.

"It rests in the district's hands at this point," he said.

About 400,000 riders take BART every weekday on the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system.

"I am so frustrated with the way they've been holding the riders hostage," said BART 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."

Sticking points in the 6-month-old negotiations include salaries and workers' contributions to their health and pension plans. Castelli said Monday that while the parties had made progress on pay, pension and health care benefits they also were still at odds on issues related to work rules.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said that the offer presented to the union Sunday 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.

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," Crunican said.

BART workers went on strike for nearly five days in early July and were about to go again on Friday when a 60-day cooling-off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown expired.

However, the parties continued negotiating over the weekend and into Monday, as ridership was light because of strike fears and the Columbus Day holiday.

A pending strike forced San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to cancel a trip to China. He said that "people's very livelihoods hang in the balance."




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