By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Unions representing striking San Francisco-area transit workers agreed with management on Monday to resume stalled labor negotiations in hopes of ending a 4-day-old walkout by more than 2,000 commuter rail employees, transit agency officials said.
The renewed contract talks, to be held under the guidance of a federal mediator, mark the first round of bargaining since Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, employees launched their strike on Friday after talks broke down over wages and workplace rules.
The resumption of negotiations between management and the two unions involved - Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 - were expected to begin Monday afternoon, BART spokesman Rick Rice said.
"The mediator is facilitating a meeting this afternoon and we are hoping to reach an agreement," Rice said. "If we can reach an agreement by 6 p.m., we can have train service running tomorrow morning."
There was no immediate comment from union officials, but they planned to hold a news conference later in the afternoon.
The strike has idled a commuter rail system that serves 400,000 riders a day in San Francisco, Oakland and outlying suburbs, causing severe rush-hour gridlock in one of the most traffic-clogged cities in the United States.
For months, BART management and employee unions have been at odds over pay and benefits for union workers who are demanding large pay raises, in part to offset being asked to contribute to their pensions and pay more for healthcare.
Under the terms of the last contract proposal made public, BART said it offered a 12 percent pay raise over four years. According to management, BART workers earn $79,000 a year on average, plus benefits. The unions put the average worker's salary at $64,000.
Union representatives had said late on Sunday that they had delivered a "new counterproposal" to management offering flexibility on rules governing workplace technology, but no details were disclosed.
The BART walkout is the second this year after unionized workers went on strike for 4-1/2 days in July, until Democratic Governor Jerry Brown obtained a court order imposing a 60-day cooling-off period aimed at giving the two sides more time to reach a settlement.
Vigils were held on Sunday in honor of two workers who were struck and killed by a train as they checked a section of the track over the weekend. The National Transportation Safety Board began an investigation of the incident on Sunday.
(This story is corrected with duration of cooling-off period to 60 days, instead of 90, in 10th paragraph)
(Additional reporting by Noel Randewich in San Francisco; Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Diane Craft)