Bay Area Rapid Transit's management and employee unions resumed contract negotiations Thursday as California's two senators urged the parties resolve the labor dispute and head off a crippling transit strike.
The two sides got back to the bargaining table a day after they made their case to a fact-finding board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The panel has until Sunday night to submit its report to the governor, who can then ask a court to call a 60-day cooling-off period, when BART trains can keep running.
On Thursday, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sent a letter to BART managers and the unions asking them to use the time before Sunday night to reach a contract agreement.
"We urge you to resume negotiations in good faith, end the dispute, and work together to avoid any further disruptions to BART service," the senators wrote. "Any BART service disruption has significant impacts on our region's economy and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use the system."
One of BART's unions, SEIU 1021, issued a statement Thursday night, stating they may still strike. "We remain committed to working through tomorrow and the weekend to reach a fair and quick resolution," Chief Negotiator Josie Mooney wrote. "However, BART and its unions have yet to meet on economic and critical safety issues. In the event that negotiations fail, we may issue a 48-hour strike notice tomorrow."
Brown's decision to empanel the "board of inquiry" late Sunday night prevented BART unions from a strike this past Monday that would have shut down one of the nation's largest transit system and created traffic mayhem in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But BART workers could strike as early as this coming Monday if both sides do not reach a deal by Sunday night and a court does not order the cooling-off period.
The two sides remain tens of millions of dollars apart on their proposals for wages, pension and medical benefits.
On Wednesday, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce asked the parties to continue around-the-clock negotiations and bring an arbitrator if necessary to reach a deal.
The labor dispute resulted in a 4 1/2-day strike in early July that snarled traffic on roadways and left commuters facing long lines for buses and ferries.
The nation's fifth largest rail system, BART carries an estimated 400,000 daily riders from the farthest reaches of San Francisco's densely populated eastern suburbs to San Francisco International Airport across the bay.