San Fancisco transit strike a distinct possibility

Judge-ordered cooling off period expired Oct. 10
||Last Updated: 10/11/2013

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) — A 60-day cooling off period to block a potential strike by San Francisco transit workers that could cripple the Bay Area's commuter rail system expired at midnight on Thursday and negotiators remain far apart, both sides said.

There were no signs that a strike was imminent, as two unions representing some 2,600 Bay Area Rapid Transit District workers have not given a 72-hour notice that has become customary ahead of such a job action. But the notice is not mandatory.

Officials for the district, which serves some 400,000 daily riders, and unions have said that they were millions of dollars away from a deal.

"We're big bucks (apart)," Tom Hock, BART's chief negotiator, said before heading into negotiations on Thursday afternoon.

A federal mediator assigned to the BART negotiations on Monday barred the two sides from releasing additional contract details, union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro said.

For its last known proposal, BART offered employees a 10 percent raise over four years. The unions asked for a three-year contract with a 3.75 percent raise for each of the first two years and a 4 percent raise in the last year of the agreement.

Antoinette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said on Thursday the sides were much closer than the $30 million proposal gap last week but that the unions were prepared to strike by Friday morning if BART's final offer fell short.

"Midnight's coming, we just don't know what's happening with it," Bryant said on Thursday, adding that "we are working very diligently to get a deal."

At California Governor Jerry Brown's request, a judge issued the cooling off period on August 11, hours before BART unions were set to strike following a 72-hour notice issuance.

"The unions are not trying to strike, that's the reason why we did not give the 72-hour notice," Bryant said on Thursday. "We want the public to understand this is not our intention to disrupt the Bay Area and the businesses that are going to be impacted."

If workers walk off the job, the rail system would shut down for the second time this year. The first strike, in July, lasted for 4-1/2 days, creating severe roadway traffic and forcing commuters to miss work or crowd onto a limited number of other public transportation options.

In the event of a strike, BART's strike contingency plan includes chartering buses with the capability of carrying 6,000 passengers per day, according to a statement on its website.

Services from other local transit providers would also be extended to accommodate BART users. The transit district also urged riders to plan ahead for a strike and request flexible work hours, telecommute and carpool to jobs if rail services are halted.

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