(AP) A San Francisco Bay Area rapid transit agency and two of its unions are set to head back to the bargaining table Thursday for 11th hour talks as the stark possibility of a second transit strike in less than three months looms.
Labor leaders for Bay Area Rapid Transit and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 expected to meet at noon, just 12 hours before a 60-day, state-mandated cooling off period that prohibited a strike expires.
If the clock strikes midnight with no agreement, workers could walk off the job leaving an estimated 400,000 commuters stranded again if the nation's fifth-largest rail system shuts down.
A bit of a setback occurred Wednesday as leaders of the unions thought they had a deal with BART management but said the proposal presented late Tuesday was taken off the table.
"We thought we were really close and they totally yanked it off the table," ATU president Antonette Bryant said Thursday. "We gave them a counteroffer, and the next day they said, 'Oh, you misunderstood what we proposed.'
"We said, 'No we didn't.'"
But BART management said the unions are mischaracterizing the situation and that it was miscommunication by mediators that led to confusion over the proposal initiated Tuesday.
"It's not the end of the world. We'll be back at the table (on Thursday)," BART spokesman Jim Allison said Wednesday.
The parties would not comment on the specifics of the proposal as Bryant said it appeared to be the closest the parties have been. The parties have reached agreement on pension contributions, but were still at odds over compensation, health care and safety.
The unions want a raise of nearly 12 percent over three years while BART has proposed a 10 percent increase over four years. BART said workers from the two unions now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers also pay a flat $92 monthly fee for health insurance.
On Monday, union leaders declined to give a customary 72 hours' notice this week that they'd be striking once the cooling off period expires. The unions said they didn't provide the three-day notice because they wanted to leave every possible option open for a resolution, but the lack of notice does nothing to stop workers from taking the picket lines starting Friday.
"The unions are doing everything we can to avert a strike, but I really don't know at this point," Bryant said. "We're less than a day from a possible strike. It's absolutely disheartening the cavalier attitude they have toward the riding public."
BART leaders said they're working equally hard toward a settlement.
"BART negotiators are ready to meet with their union partners (Thursday) and are ready and willing to work as long as necessary to keep the trains running," Allison said in a written statement late Wednesday.
BART workers walked off the job for four-and-a-half days in July, leading to jammed bridges, crowded buses for commuters throughout the Bay Area before Gov. Jerry Brown mandated the cooling off period.
During the current talks, BART officials unveiled a $21 million contingency plan to give commuters more options, including free charter buses, extra car pool lanes and even limited train service run by managers.