The Associated Press
---- — OAKLAND, Calif. — San Francisco Bay Area commuters braced for the possibility of another train strike as the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency and its workers approached a deadline to reach a new labor deal.
The two sides resumed negotiations around noon Thursday but did not appear close to an agreement.
Progress has been made on peripheral issues, but the "meat and potatoes" issues of the contract, including salaries and benefits, have yet to be resolved, said Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, one of two unions in talks with BART.
Bryant declined to go into detail about how far apart the two sides were, but he said the union would decide after Thursday's talks whether to issue a 72-hour strike notice. That could mean train service that serves more than 400,000 commuters each weekday could shut down for Monday morning's commute if a deal isn't reached over the weekend.
"We are hopeful that we can get an agreement," Bryant said. "There's still time at the table."
The agency contractually cannot hire any replacement workers, but BART spokesman Jim Allison said it will secure about 95 charter buses to transport Bay Area commuters if there's a strike.
"We believe there is still enough time to come to a common-sense contract agreement," he said.
BART, the nation's fifth-largest rail system, carries passengers from the farthest reaches of San Francisco's densely populated eastern suburbs across the bay, through the city, and to San Francisco International Airport.
The unions went on strike last month, shutting down BART service for four days and snarling transit in the region. Commuters faced long lines for buses and ferries, and roadways were jammed, but a transit shutdown next week could be more disruptive because the first work stoppage occurred around the Fourth of July holiday.
The unions — which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff — agreed to call off the strike and extend their contracts until Aug. 4 while negotiations continued.
Key sticking points in the labor dispute include worker safety, pensions and health care costs, according to BART and union officials.
The transit agency has said union train operators and station agents average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers pay nothing toward their pensions.
BART says it needs to save money on benefits to help pay for system improvements.
Unions submitted their last financial proposal last month and were awaiting a counteroffer from BART, said Josie Mooney, chief negotiator for the local Service Employees International Union, the other union in talks with BART. Mooney said they offered to contribute to the pension, but she could not say how much because of a gag order issued by a mediator.