Tentative deal reached ending S.F. BART strike

Melanie Eversley, Michael Winter & Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO - At about 10 p.m. West Coast time, union and transit officials announced a tentative deal in the four-day Bay Area transit strike, ending traveling nightmares for 400,000 commuters.

Des Patten, president of the BART professional chapter of Service Employees International Union, said during a press conference that the tentative deal includes wage increases and work rule changes that allow for innovation and input from workers. The tentative deal also prioritizes rider and worker safety, Patten said.

The agreement represents a "new path in terms of our partnership with workers," BART general manager Grace Crunican said. "We compromised to get to this place as did our union members."

Patten said the same.

"Our workers, just like other workers, just want to be able to afford to live in the Bay Area," he said.

Finer details of the agreement won't be made public until union officials have a chance to communicate with the membership, Crunican said.

Some trains in the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system will be back in service by 6 a.m. Tuesday, Crunican said.

The announcement came hours after the talks to end the work stoppage resumed Monday afternoon, when two unions offered to change work rules behind the walkout that has snarled Bay Area traffic.

"There are communications ... between the district, the mediator and the unions," BART spokesman Jim Allison told KQED earlier Monday night.

BART would like more flexibility in "beneficial past practices," informal practices agreed upon by all parties at a scene, Allison told the news organization.

Both sides had been meeting with a federal mediator over the weekend and earlier Monday. BART officials met with the mediator to discuss the proposal by the Amalgamated Transit Union and Service Employees International Union to modify rules governing implementation of new technology but to retain control over safety-related issues.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant said face-to-face negotiations resumed about 2:30 p.m.

A source close to the talks told the San Francisco Chronicle that the unions and management were "an inch apart" last night and "a half an inch apart today."

Commuter frustration with the second strike in four months boiled over Monday, as traffic leading to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was already backed up for miles by dawn. The evening commute repeated the nightmare.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission began offering $5 gift cards for Peet's Coffee and Tea to drivers willing to pick up passengers at "casual carpool" locations near the bridge. Over the weekend, a few commuters began posting online ads asking for - and offering - rides downtown.

"Anyone driving to the city today hit me up please," tweeted a user named Heaven Haile on Sunday. "This bart strike is gonna kill me."

"BART sucks!" read Emily Pharr's Craigslist ad. Pharr, 42, a program manager who works in Palo Alto and lives in Oakland, was offering rides downtown in her Dodge Caravan from the North Berkeley BART station, starting at 5:30 a.m. Monday.

"It's just really crazy," she said of the rail strike, which threatened to enter its fourth day. "Half a million people can't go to work without a hassle - and it's not a little hassle, it's a huge hassle."

Pharr was asking prospective passengers for "a kind donation of $10 to cover my gas and my time." She offered to take the special high-occupancy HOV carpooling lanes clear to Palo Alto, south of the city. By midday Sunday, she had filled two of five available seats in the minivan.

ATU President Bryant over the weekend said she planned to take a final contract offer before members for a vote, but she expected it to be rejected. "It's our hope we can get it to members this week," Bryant told the Associated Press. She expected the vote to be "a resounding no."

Union officials said there was general agreement on some economic issues, but the two sides came to an impasse over work rules, including the length of the workday and when overtime pay kicks in.

Despite the strike, two workers inspecting tracks in Walnut Creek were hit and killed by a BART train Saturday afternoon as it returned from routine maintenance, transit officials said. The four-car train was being run in automatic mode under computer control at the time, said Paul Oversier, BART's assistant general manager.

But the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that the train, which carried six employees, was being used for both maintenance and training and that the person handling the controls was being trained. James Southworth, the lead investigator, said the train was traveling 60 to 70 mph when it hit the workers.

Union members reported that managers were being trained to operate trains, but Southworth would not confirm that.

The Contra Costa County Coroner's Office identified the victims as Laurence Daniels, 66, of Fair Oaks and Christopher Sheppard, 58, of Hayward. It was the first fatal accident involving a BART employee in five years.

Bay City News reported that Sheppard worked for BART and was a member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993. That union, which represents mainly middle managers, is not on strike.

Daniels was a contractor working with the transit agency.

Contributing: The Associated Press


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