San Francisco area rail system and workers to resume talking

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 02, 2013 6:24 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco's regional rail system and its striking employees were to resume mediation on Tuesday evening after another painful commute for thousands forced onto crowded roads, buses and ferries with no train service for a second day.

"We're seriously hoping to make some progress to get our people back and our trains rolling," said Rick Rice, a spokesman for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, on the second day of a strike by about 2,400 of its employees.

BART serves 400,000 riders daily. With its trains idled since Monday morning, thousands of riders across the San Francisco region drove to work, creating traffic nightmares on many of its roads.

The strike is the first by BART employees since 1997. It began after talks with management faltered late on Sunday just hours before labor agreements expired.

The two sides have been far apart for months and talks broke down repeatedly before resuming Sunday afternoon at the behest of Governor Jerry Brown.

BART has put forward a "fair and responsible" offer that included an 8 percent pay increase over four years that union negotiators rejected, according to its spokesman.

Union representatives said management has not negotiated in good faith.

Three other California officials on Tuesday sought to prod the two sides back to the bargaining table.

"Given the massive dislocation a protracted strike will cause, you owe the people of the Bay Area your time, your concentration and your best good-faith effort at reaching a bargained agreement. It is our collective opinion that, so far, you have fallen short," a letter from State Controller John Chiang, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom said.

With BART trains out of action, local officials have added extra buses and ferries to shuttle commuters from cities on the east side of San Francisco Bay such as Oakland to San Francisco.

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The additional transport accommodates only a fraction of commuters who use BART trains. Routes to and from San Francisco and East Bay communities are among BART's busiest.

If they could, commuters worked from home. Many used carpools. But heavy traffic pointed to many others driving on their own and choking some highways, especially the Bay Bridge linking the East Bay and San Francisco.

Additional time commuters spend sitting in traffic will cost the San Francisco region's economy $73 million in lost worker productivity each day the strike persists, according to the Bay Area Economic Institute.

(Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by Greg McCune and Jan Paschal)