By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Bus drivers threatening to shut down a major San Francisco-area transportation system over pay and healthcare benefits have reached a deal, averting a strike that would have affected nearly 200,000 commuters.
Union representatives and management reached agreement on Tuesday night, minutes before 1,800 transit workers planned to walk off the job. The agreement came less than a week after California Governor Jerry Brown intervened to halt a massive commuter rail worker walkout in the area.
"This was a long and often intense negotiation and there are no winners or losers in its outcome," David Armijo, general manager of the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Agency, said in a statement.
"We are happy we were able to get through the process without any disruption in service," Armijo said.
The transit agency serves 181,000 bus riders daily in two large East Bay counties, in an area that includes Oakland and Berkeley, and downtown San Francisco.
The union representing the transit agency's bus drivers, mechanics and clerical workers gave a 72-hour strike notice on Monday, after failing to reach an agreement on wages, benefits and safety concerns with the agency's board of governors.
After a lengthy session on Tuesday, the union and the board agreed on a 9.5 percent wage increase over a three-year period and annual flat rate healthcare contributions starting at $70, said union spokeswoman Sharon Cornu in a statement.
Union workers initially asked for a wage hike totaling about 10 percent over three years, while the board offered 9 percent, transit agency spokesman Clarence Johnson said.
"This agreement protects workers, helps riders, and keeps service running," Cornu said.
Union members began negotiations with the board in March, four months before the contract expired.
The bus worker deal followed a narrowly avoided strike by employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District, the San Francisco-area's central rail system that carries 400,000 passengers daily.
After failing to negotiate new contract terms, the two unions representing 2,400 rail system workers on Thursday submitted a notice of intent to strike on Monday morning. But Brown stepped in late Sunday night and delayed a possible strike for seven days, appointing a three-member board to investigate the labor dispute.
A rail strike would be prohibited while the investigation is underway. The BART board of inquiry is scheduled to meet with BART unions and management on Wednesday.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Jeffrey Benkoe)