S.F.-area transit strike averted — at least for day

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SAN FRANCISCO — A major San Francisco Bay-area transit strike was averted for at least a day after two labor unions extended contract negotiations beyond a midnight deadline and agreed not to walk off the job Monday to allow more talks.

The deal announced late Sunday about an hour before Bay Area Rapid Transit workers were set to go on strike gives the two sides a chance to work out a labor contract and hundreds of thousands of commuters at least a temporary reprieve from scrambling to find alternative ways to get around.

But the unions warned that workers will go on strike at midnight Monday if an agreement isn't reached by then.

"We are not going to go on strike because the public deserves to have a riding system that works. We will give the (transit agency) one more day to get it together," said Antonette Bryant, leader of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, one of the two unions in talks with BART.

The 11th-hour announcement came after weekend-long talks to avert a second commute-crippling strike in less than three months.

BART workers went on strike for nearly five days in July and were set to do so again Friday when a cooling-off period ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown ended, but they agreed to negotiate through the weekend.

But Bryant complained that BART presented a last, final offer Sunday afternoon just as the parties came close to reaching a full agreement.

The executive director of the other union involved in the talks, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said the parties made progress on pay, pension and health care benefits but were still at odds on issues related to work rules.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said the "last best and final offer" presented to the unions Sunday is $7 million higher than the one presented Friday and includes a raise of 3 percent a year. She said the unions have two weeks from Sunday to accept the deal before it is taken off the table.

"We are open to any ideas over those two weeks that they may have, we will try and keep that conversation open," she said in a statement. "It is time to bring this to a close. The Bay Area is tired of going to bed at night and not knowing if BART will be open or not."

Nearly 370,000 riders take BART every weekday, and its 104 miles of track make it the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system.

In a sign of how seriously another shutdown is looming over the region, state lawmakers from the Bay Area and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom dropped by the talks Sunday to encourage the two sides to reach a resolution.

Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, told reporters he believed a deal was close.

"It would be preposterous for both sides at this stage when you're getting this close to put, at risk, your reputation and the economy of the entire region," he said.

Sticking points in the 6-month-old negotiations include salaries and workers' contributions to their health and pension plans. BART workers currently pay $92 a month for health care and contribute nothing toward their pensions -- generous benefits BART management is seeking to curtail.

The unions, which represent 2,375 mechanics, custodians, station agents, train operators and clerical workers, want a raise of nearly 12 percent over three years, while BART has proposed a 10 percent increase over four years. Workers from the two unions now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually, BART said.

Labor leaders were also pressing demands to make stations safer, such as better lighting in tunnels, bulletproof glass in agents' booths and improved restroom access.