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SF-area train system keeps running amid talks

Posted: October 15, 2013 8:22 a.m.
Updated: October 15, 2013 8:22 a.m.
 

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A recipe for gridlock was brewing in the San Francisco Bay Area, as two of the region's major transit agencies teetered on the brink of commute-crippling strikes.

While talks between San Francisco's main commuter rail agency and its unions to avoid a walk-off were set to resume on Tuesday, workers at a major regional bus line said they would go on strike in 72 hours.

Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District workers were set to walk off the job on Thursday after issuing the 72-hour strike notice on Monday morning. AC Transit buses serve the East Bay and also provide service into and out of San Francisco.

They served as alternative transportation for many Bay Area Rapid Transit train riders during the BART strike in July.

The AC Transit notice comes as BART and its workers remained locked in their own labor dispute. BART was running trains on a normal schedule on Tuesday after unions and management agreed to extend labor talks past a midnight deadline.

BART unions had said they would go on strike if they didn't reach a contract deal by midnight Monday after extending stalled negotiations from over the weekend.

But federal mediator George Cohen told reporters at about 1 a.m. Tuesday that "intense negotiations" would resume and go through the night. Cohen said the two sides would be back at the table in the early afternoon. Local media reported negotiations were scheduled to resume at 1 p.m.

Sticking points in the 6-month-old negotiations between BART management and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 include salaries and workers' contributions to their health and pension plans.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said a "last, best and final offer" presented to the unions Sunday was $7 million higher than a proposal presented Friday. 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.

Crunican said the unions had two weeks to accept the deal before it would be taken off the table.

The unions said the parties were about $16 million apart over four years.

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.

BART is the nation's fifth-largest rail system. It serves about 400,000 riders each weekday.

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