BART and union officials in talks to avoid strike


BART trains could come to a screeching halt if the district and its two biggest unions can't work out a deal.

ATU, representing the station agents and train operators, and SEIU, representing the maintenance workers, cast their ballots Tuesday, authorizing the negotiating teams to call a strike if talks break down.

"We do not want a strike, a strike is the last option that we would have," SEIU Local 1021 President John Arantes said.

Bart released written response late in the afternoon saying, in part, "This procedural step is a clear signal our employees are willing to shut down the Bay Area and cause commute chaos to make their case for a 23 percent raise."

Bart is offering four percent.

They have until Sunday night to reach a compromise on that and medical and pension benefits. Also, the unions are insisting on negotiating more security and safety for workers and passengers. BART, however, insists negotiations are not the place for that discussion.

If there is a strike, other transit systems have little open capacity to absorb BART's 400,000 daily passengers. And, there's a chance that AC Transit might not be at work. Its union contract also expires Sunday night, and that ATU local has also authorized a strike.

"That would leave the Bay Area in a pretty serious situation," said Yvonne Williams with ATU Local 192.

Carpooling is recommended as the best option.

"I take BART five days a week downtown," BART commuter Mike Sidell said. "I live in Redwood City, so I'm hoping there's no a strike. We'll all be up Sunday night watching TV, hoping it doesn't happen."

The last BART strike was 1997, when ridership was about half of what it is now.

"Well, the last time it happened, I took the ferry," BART rider Alicia Battle said. "So, maybe I'll have a chance to work from home, because that means more people on the road, more people on the ferries, and the ferry doesn't start as early as I do."

"I guess I'll have to start driving my car or maybe carpool some more," BART rider Heinz Rosener said. "You know, you still have to make things happen and be positive about it."

"I'm going to be on vacation next week, so I'm hoping, if they do go on strike, it'll be over with by the time I get home," BART rider Jim Reiter said.

The unions say they will give as much advance notice as possible should they decide to strike, but there's no guarantee how much that advance notice will be.

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