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BART service resumes as negotiations continue

July 5, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
BART trains are running once more, ending a four-day strike that crippled commutes across the Bay Area.

It was about 2:45 p.m. at the Embarcadero station in San Francisco when a station agent came out to unlock the fare gates. A small crowd had accumulated in the hour leading up to that moment.

The platform signs were showing waits of 20 and 30 minutes or more for trains. Some trains flew through without stopping. Then mysteriously one did and an announcement came on that it was headed for Millbrae and to get on if that's where you wanted to go. It took off at exactly 2:59 p.m.

Commuters are relieved to have their BART back.

"Great," BART rider Barbara Hodovan said. "I really don't know how people come to the city from the East Bay without BART."

"I wanna also make sure that the BART workers get their fair share too," BART rider Tracey Roth said. "So I wanna recognize their struggle in it but also know that it's been tough for everyone."

Fellow rider Eric Westland adds, "I got chills. The newspaper this morning said that it was still on strike and, um, when I saw the thing on the bus booth that trains are running at three, I got goosebumps."

But while trains are running and it appears as though things are back to normal, it's clear from both BART management and their two primary unions that there is still a lot of work to do to truly solve the transit district's labor issues.

"We were all working to try to get train service up and running on Monday and unfortunately it became clear we were going to need several more days and this weekend to get a deal in place that unfortunately the parties still remained far apart," BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said.

The unions and BART have not agreed on a new contract. The deal they agreed upon late Thursday night was to extend the two striking unions' existing contract for 30 days. BART employees are back at work as negotiations continue for the next month. The extension is, in many ways, a large indicator of just how far apart they are.

If a new contract is approved it will be retroactive to July 1, the day that the previous contract had expired. And if there's still no agreement by August, workers could go on strike again.

"We're trying this last day 30 day ditch effort with the hopes the district will come to the table, fully prepared, fully engaged to get us to work out this contract," ATU Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant said.

At last word, BART's unions still want pay increases of at least 4.5 percent per year, for the next three years. And BART was still offering two percent annually for four years.

"We have a lot of work left to do," SEIU negotiator Josie Mooney said. "We stand together tonight and we expect to be standing together with a fair contract by the end of August the fourth.

This latest strike left many commuters scrambling for other transportation options. Even so, it was nothing like the longest strike in the system's history -- the summer of 1979 when BART's unions stayed out for three months.

"After a month, people do find other ways to get around," former BART spokesperson Mike Healy said. "But once the system was back in service, everybody came back, it didn't take them long."

You may remember that BART rejected the idea of a 60 day cooling off period because they didn't want a possible strike in September, when ridership is a lot higher. They're comfortable with this one because it ends in August. It's still summer, but both sides told us they're confident they can get something done by then.

Riders lining up to catch shuttle buses to San Francisco Friday were glad that BART trains would be rolling again, but said they fear the extension could mean another strike in August.

"In 30 days, if that time passes by, we'll be back to square one again," BART rider Anna Kumar said. "So, they really need to get this together."

Fellow BART rider Bridget Burdick added, "I feel like they coulda done that in the first place. Why strike and then agree to come back until you figure something out. But I'm thankful for the buses, so thank you BART for the buses."

The transit agency provided seven shuttles from several East Bay locations that were first come first serve. But it wasn't enough, and many riders in Walnut Creek were left behind.

"It's extremely inconveniencing," BART rider Cheryl Gonzalez said. "Yeah, I mean, some of us do have to work today."

There were so many complaints from so frustrated riders that BART had to find another bus.

Stay with ABC7NEWS.COM for updates on the BART negotiations and information on how to get around when the trains aren't running. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ and download our news app for the latest news whenever and wherever you want.

(ABC7 News reporters Heather Ishimaru, Laura Anthony, Cornell Barnard, and Bay City News contributed to this report)


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