SF Bay area rail strike continues on 4th of July

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Strike weary San Francisco Bay area commuters are getting a reprieve from crammed buses and bumper-to-bumper traffic thanks to the Fourth of July holiday as rail workers begin their fourth day of a walkout Thursday.

No agreement was announced as negotiations between Bay Area Rapid Transit agency officials and its two largest labor unions went late into the night Wednesday. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that talks adjourned but would resume later Thursday.

Both sides indicated progress was made during an overnight session a day earlier, but another day passed with no agreement announced.

Key issues in the labor dispute involving the nation's fifth-largest rail system include salaries, pensions, health care and safety.

Both sides hoped the ongoing talks would hasten an agreement that could get the trains running again.

The strike, however, continues to cause stress and frustration in the region. Commuters were delayed and forced to cram onto ferries and buses, or wait for the transit agency's charter buses at five locations.

BART serves more than 400,000 commuters each weekday. The strike began early Monday after talks broke off. Negotiations resumed Tuesday as political pressure and public pleas mounted.

The governor's office sent two of the state's top mediators — the chair of the Public Employment Relations Board and the chief of the State Mediation and Conciliation Service — to facilitate further talks.

A letter from the state controller, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner said the strike has caused "widespread personal hardship and severe economic disruption," and it noted they were disappointed "about the lack of productive proposals and counterproposals in the days leading up to the strike."

BART has said union train operators and station agents 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.

BART travels through the farthest reaches of San Francisco's densely populated eastern suburbs to San Francisco International Airport across the bay. With 44 stations in four counties and 104 miles of lines, the trains handle more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco, area transportation officials said.

To aid commuters, BART has extended the hours of carpool lanes and added ferries and buses.

The unions — which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff — want a 5 percent raise each year over the next three years.

BART said it is offering an 8 percent salary increase over the next four years as well as reducing the amount of employee contributions it originally requested for pension and medical benefits.

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