OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Commuters faced a third day without Bay Area Rapid Transit service on Wednesday as newly-resumed labor negotiations had not yet yielded an agreement, although there was word that BART management had tendered a new offer to its two striking unions.
“We’re hopeful, we’re hopeful,” said union negotiators as they entered the site of the contract talks Tuesday night after commuters spent a second straight day cramming onto ferries and buses, as well as sitting in heavy traffic on the region’s major roadways.
A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown told CBS San Francisco that he had dispatched the state’s top two mediators, the chair of the Public Employment Relations Board and the chief of the State Mediation and Conciliation Service, to Oakland to get the negotiations restarted – a move that both sides seemed to embrace.
“We’re very happy about that, hopefully that will speed up the process so we can make some progress now,” Des Patton, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1221 told KPIX 5. The SEIU along with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 represents the nearly 2,400 striking employees.
BART spokesman Rick Rice indicated the transit agency’s management also welcomed the resumption of talks, telling CBS San Francisco that “after one full day of no meetings, we are eager to get back to the table.” Later, he said the new talks continued into the overnight hours with no sign of stopping – but added that BART had received no indication that strikers would go back to work on Wednesday.
The return to the bargaining table came as political pressure mounted for the unions and the transit agency to reach a settlement. Union members went on strike early Monday after contract talks with management broke down.
In a letter Tuesday to BART and its unions, a copy of which was obtained by CBS San Francisco, state officials including former San Francisco mayor and now-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed disappointment with both sides in the dispute.
“We are acutely aware of the widespread personal hardship and severe economic disruption caused even by a short interruption in BART service,” Newsom wrote along with state Controller John Chiang and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “Given the massive dislocation a protracted strike will cause, you owe the people of the Bay Area your time, your concentration and your best good-faith effort at reaching a bargained agreement. It is our collective opinion that so far, you have fallen short.”
BART is the nation’s fifth-largest rail system and the Bay Area commute has been chaotic for the last two days without it. Freeways have choked to a standstill, lines for ferry service have tripled, and buses are overstuffed with riders.
“It’s already starting to wear on people,” said Hilary Hartman, after arriving at San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal on Tuesday. “You see the buses trickling in from the East Bay, and it’s standing-room only, and people’s faces are not super happy when they’re getting off.”
The unions seemed to recognize that the strike was beginning to test the public’s patience, posting an open letter to the community on a union website Tuesday.
“Trust us when we say that we want to get back to work just as much as you want us to,” the blog post said. It asked readers to call BART’s general manager and board of directors and “urge them to stop playing games and bargain in good faith.”
As the talks resumed, both sides entered the discussions far apart on issues including salary, pensions, health care and safety. In fact, BART’s management and unions were unable to even publicly agree on what the existing salary base is for striking workers.
BART spokespeople have said the average employee makes $79,500 in salary, plus $50,800 in benefits yearly. But union officials contended that wasn’t the real number because it included BART’s 411 non-union employees; BART responded by insisting that the unions were wrong and maintained that figure did not include non-union workers.
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