The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 1, 2013

SF Bay Area braces for first day of transit strike

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Commuters braced for traffic snarls Monday morning as two of San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit's largest unions went on strike, halting train service for the first time in 13 years.

The walkout promised to derail the more than 400,000 riders who use the nation's fifth-largest rail system and affect every mode of transportation. Transportation officials say another 60,000 vehicles could be on the road, clogging highways and bridges throughout the Bay Area.

The strike was called after an 11th-hour effort to resume negotiation failed to produce a new contract by the deadline of midnight Sunday. Both the unions and management said they were far apart on key sticking points including salary, pensions, health care and safety.

"A strike is always the last resort and we have done everything in our power to avoid it," said Josie Mooney, a negotiator for Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

"Our members aren't interested in disrupting the Bay Area, but management has put us in a position where we have no choice," said Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555.

Negotiations fell apart Saturday and the unions walked away from the table. California Gov. Jerry Brown's office had urged both sides to resume discussions Sunday with rush hour on the horizon.

But talks between the two sides came to an end Sunday night with BART accusing negotiators of walking away from the bargaining table, while the SEIU countered in a statement that management "threw in the towel."

The unions, which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff, were asking for a 5 percent annual raise over the next three years. BART said that train operators and station agents in the unions average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers also pay a flat $92 monthly fee for health insurance.

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