BART's unions have given a 72-hour notice of a strike

OAKLAND, Calif.

The tension was so thick at the BART contract talks in the afternoon, people walked out with some very grim faces.

The union leaders left the talks for a rally that will start at Frank Ogawa Plaza and then end up at BART headquarters at Lake Merritt. They left saying, "no comment, see you at the rally."

But if BART directors James Fang and John McPartland are any indication, talks are not going well at all. They were sat in the talks for two hours as observers. As they left they spoke to us off camera. They called the talks bizarre and that they think personalities are getting in the way.

The two sides still have not gotten to talking about the major hot potato topics like medical, pension, and wages.

Fang said in his 23 years as a BART director, he's never seen the board left so out of the negotiations process.

BART rolled out its charts Thursday, showing what workers at a long list of other Bay Area public employers pay into their pensions, while BART workers pay nothing.

"We're just trying to play catch up with what everyone else had already figured out how to do here in the Bay Area," BART communications manager Alicia Trost said.

The transit agency says there's no line the sand, but it sounds like there is, on pension and medical benefits; benefits that have to be reined in if BART is going to survive and thrive down the line.

"There's no question that BART employees should get a pay raise," BART spokesperson Jim Allison said. "But contracts that continue to allow BART employees to pay nothing toward their pensions and a flat rate for health care, those contracts are no longer sustainable."

Thousands of BART riders are caught in the middle of the labor dispute, not knowing how to plan to get around next week. Just when they thought it was over, the transit agency's workers are gearing up to put the brakes on service once again. And BART riders are not happy.

Commuter Clarinda McElroy is working on putting together a carpool for next week.

"I haven't picked sides, but I think we need BART, because that's how we get back and forth to work all these years," she said.

Roger House drives to Oakland from Walnut Creek. He's also planning for a strike. When asked how it was the last time, he answered, "It was awful, it was double the time. And this time it's going to be worse, right, because it's going to be ten percent more."

"I feel frustrated," one BART rider said. "I just found out about that this morning and the last strike was really challenging."

Commuters with limited mobility and those needing assistance say getting around as it is is hard enough. But disrupting train service makes it close to impossible.

"This is hard times, we're all hurting, and so the service is needed desperately," commuter Beverly McAllister.

Commuters are directing their anger at both BART and its workers.

"But I imagine at some point the people who work on BART will accept the minimal," one commuter said.

Fellow BART rider Douglas McKay added, "Pay part of the pension, pay part of the health care, everybody else does."

Still, others believe a hardline approach would seal the negotiation deal quick, fast, and in a hurry.

"BART is overpaid and if I was on the board, what I'd offer them was you get a choice of a 25 percent cut, a 20 percent cut and if you don't like that, you're out the door," McKay said.

Director Fang off camera told us that he thinks these talks are even more contentious than those in 1997 that led to a six day strike.

If there is a strike, anyone expecting a short resolution should think again. Fang says he's heard it would be a minimum two weeks. The first week is when the public would crucify the unions and the second week is when they'd hate everyone, except then, BART would run out of money.

The two sides have until Sunday to reach an agreement, before thousands will be forced to find alternate routes around the bay.

Stay with ABC7NEWS.COM for updates on the looming BART strike and information on how to get around if the trains stop running. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ and download our news app for the latest news whenever and wherever you want.

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