BART riders are hopeful the agency and its unions will agree on a long-term contract soon to avert a future strike. Jean Elle reports.
Commuter rail service resumed Friday in the San Francisco Bay area after unions called off a strike, agreeing with the transit agency to extend a labor contract for a month while they continue bargaining.
At the Civic Center station in San Francisco the whooshing sound of trains could be heard around 3 p.m. as lines started forming at the ticket machines and Clipper cards were tapped at the turnstiles.
An announcement over the PA system stated, "BART is now open for service."
Friday morning commuters still had to get to work for a fifth day without BART service, however.
As the two parties broke off negotiations shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, California Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern announced that the parties will return to work Friday morning and have trains running "in time for the Giants game."
Negotiations will continue for the next month as a new contract has yet to be agreed on, but the agreement recommended by state mediators to extend BART's exiting contract will keep the trains running until at least Aug. 4, Morgenstern said.
Once a new contract is approved, it will be retroactive to July 1, the day that the previous contract had expired.
"We're very, very pleased that these workers will be back to work and the trains will be running again in the Bay Area," Morgenstern said. "The battle's not over, the job's not done, and everyone will be working as hard as they have between now and Aug. 4 to make sure that they have a good contract that keeps the trains running."
Morgenstern said he and two top state mediators urged the bargaining parties to agree to an extension of the current labor deal as both groups have said repeatedly that they were far apart in terms of reaching a new deal.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican agreed there is still a wide gap. Key sticking points in the labor dispute include salaries, pensions, health care and safety.
"Unfortunately, the issues that brought us to this point remain unresolved," Crunican said. "Despite lots of hard work, BART and its unions have failed to come to an agreement on contract issues that matter to all of us today and into the future."
Josie Mooney, a chief negotiator for SEIU, Local 1021, said late Thursday that there's still a lot of work left to do and asked the public to keep the parties on task.
"We stand together tonight and we expect to be standing together with a new contract at the end of August 4 and we hope to goodness that you insist that all the parties do the right thing," Mooney said.
BART serves more than 400,000 commuters each weekday. The transit system carries passengers from the farthest reaches of San Francisco's densely populated eastern suburbs to San Francisco International Airport across the bay.
A total of 35 trains were in service as of 3 p.m., when service resumed on the BART system, according to agency officials.
BART has said workers from the two 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.
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.
Antonette Bryant, the ATU Local 1555 president, said late Thursday that BART is "on notice" and has 30 days to hammer out a deal.
"We're not going to let them hijack us and the riding public and we are deeply sorry this had to happen," Bryant said.
Bay City News contributed to this report.