BART unions announced at midnight they are striking and apologized to commuters


ABC7 News reporter John Alston reports that BART is now alerting passengers of a possible strike. The transit agency is turning on electronic signs that will warn riders at BART stations.

Both sides had agreed to meet at a neutral place on Sunday afternoon. Negotiators filed into the Caltrans building on Grand Avenue at 3:30 p.m. to resume talks. This is the first time the two sides have negotiated, face-to-face, since Friday.

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost says the transit agency is willing to go all night and extend talks, if necessary, to avoid a strike.

Union negotiator Leopoldo Ruiz, however, doesn't believe the two can easily reach an agreement.

"We're very far apart, we're very far apart," he said. "We're coming to meet because we've never given up, the district gave up on us. We were at the table for a day and a half, a day and a half, and the district never showed up during that day and a half. We're still very far apart."

Ruiz says the distance for the two has been significant. BART workers are asking for a five percent pay hike each year for three years plus a two percent cost of living increase each of those years. The union says it will pay half a percent towards its pension, which is now fully funded by BART.

Negotiator Antonette Bryant says BART's latest offer, given to them Friday, was insulting.

"The actual offer is one percent, one percent, one percent, one percent" she said. "The additional one percent each year is based on conditions that are not only preposterous, they're penalizing our members."

Talks have been virtually stalled since Thursday. This was the first formal meeting between the two sides, except for a ten minute meeting on Saturday.

State mediator Steve Pearl could not talk about the stage of the negotiations only that this meeting was crucial.

"The administration expects the parties to meet, negotiate, and reach a settlement, he said.

Union members have also told us that they want to avoid a strike that would cripple the Bay Area Monday morning.

Governor Jerry Brown on Sunday afternoon rejected a 60 day "cooling off period," saying he wants this settled.

"The Governor will not call for a cooling off period at this time, but state mediators will continue to offer every assistance and encouragement," Brown spokesperson Evan Westrup said. "BART and its labor unions owe the public a swift resolution of their differences. All parties should be at the table doing their best to find common ground."

The last BART strike lasted six days back in 1997 and it's anyone's guess if traffic Monday will be worse or better than it was 16 years ago.

More people can telecommute now, but there are also many more BART passengers than there were back then -- 400,000 now, as opposed to 275,000 people in 1997.

Bay Area transit agencies prepare for potential BART strike

To help ease the commuter impact if its workers go on strike, BART will be providing free weekday roundtrip bus service to San Francisco from four BART stations -- El Cerrito Del Norte, Walnut Creek, Dublin/Pleasanton, and Fremont.

Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis in the morning at these four stations only.

The busses will drop off passengers near San Francisco's Transbay Terminal. Commuters can also catch a free bus back across the bay.

Other contingency plans include free parking at any BART station or Park & Ride lot for carpools to meet.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency officials say they would also expand casual carpooling for San Francisco and East Bay travelers.

Additional transit fare inspectors would be available Monday to help Muni customers.

If BART strikes, transit officials say the best option would be for commuters to work from home, if at all possible.

San Francisco Bay Ferry says it's doing what it can to shoulder the burden in the event of a BART strike.

On a given day, about 20,000 seats are typically available on one of the ferries going to and from the East Bay, San Francisco, and South San Francisco. But on Sunday, the number of seats available will more than double to 50,000 seats.

Additionally, 11 vessels will be in operation instead of eight, and expanded hours will be from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The ferry service reminds commuters that there is limited parking at ferry terminals and suggests people get dropped off or carpool.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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