Speaking to reporters outside the Caltrans building in downtown Oakland, where BART management is meeting with union leaders, Service Employees International Union Local 1021 Executive Director Pete Castelli said, "We're ready to bargain" but union leaders remain unhappy with a last, best and final offer management presented on Sunday.
The offer includes a 12 percent wage increase over four years, retroactive to July 5, plus a bonus if BART exceeds its ridership goals, but also requires employees to make a 4 percent pension contribution and a 9.5 percent contribution to their health benefits, according to BART officials.
BART has said the union has two weeks from Sunday to accept its offer.
Castelli said it was "very strange and very curious" to make the offer and then "walk away from it" without further discussion.
"That's known as jamming the other side," Castelli said.
He advised BART riders to "prepare for alternative transportation" to get to work on Tuesday because he thinks a strike is likely "unless something breaks and there's a Hail Mary."
BART Board President Tom Radulovich, who spoke to reporters shortly before Castelli did, said management's offer represents "the outer limit" of what the transit agency can offer its workers.
Radulovich said people who have phoned BART directors about the negotiations are urging them by a three-to-one margin to "hold the line and be firm" with the unions.
Although management said it has made its final offer to employees, Radulovich said management is willing to talk to union leaders about ways to reach an agreement on the numbers involved in a potential deal.
He said "the money won't change but there might be another way" to reach an agreement based on input from the unions.
Radulovich said, "We understand the anxiety everyone faces" about the threat of a BART strike but he said management will be at the bargaining table "all night tonight and as long as it takes."
The contract talks involve SEIU Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers.
Even though the unions are threatening to go on strike, Castelli said, "We remain very close to a deal and we're ready to bargain."
But he said if a strike happens "it would lie clearly at the foot of BART directors" for not being more directly involved in negotiations and not being more flexible.
Politicians try to help sides avoid strike
About 10 politicians have been involved in the effort to avoid a BART strike, not in the negotiating sessions, but on the sidelines pressuring both sides to compromise. They have been quietly working behind the scenes, but they made their presence known over the weekend.
"We have two missions: keep the trains running and keep the discussions going," Assm. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said.
John Logan, the head of San Francisco State University's labor and employment studies program, says the politicians were neutral observers trying to pressure both the unions and management.
"It would not have been useful to have them there all along, but just to try to push the deal over the finish line, which regrettably did not happen," Logan said.
Unions and democratic politicians have long had a cozy relationship. According to figures from Maplight.org, between 2010 and 2012, SEIU has given more than $2.5 million to state lawmakers and ATU has given more than $300,000.
But Logan believes constituent distress over a possible strike holds more sway than money.
"I think their intervention was extremely helpful and extremely necessary," he said.
And as the clock ticks down, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has postponed his scheduled trip to china to work the phones hoping to help forge an agreement.
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.
Bay City News and ABC7 News reporters Laura Anthony, John Altson, Wayne Freedman and Carolyn Tyler contributed to this story.