By Laila Kearney
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A strike that could cripple the San Francisco Bay area's commuter rail system has been averted for the weekend as contract talks continue, but workers could walk off the job on Monday if a deal is not reached, union leaders said.
The announcement that talks would continue through the weekend came late Thursday night, just minutes before the end of a 60-day cooling off period that had blocked a strike on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, which serves 400,000 daily riders.
Talks resumed Friday morning at about 10 a.m., BART spokesman Rick Rice and union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro said in separate statements. BART trains were running on schedule while the talks continued.
"We remain hopeful that our good-faith effort will be met by their good-faith effort," said Roxanne Sanchez, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021. "If there is no agreement by Sunday (midnight), there would be a strike."
Leaders of the two biggest unions involved in the talks, representing some 2,600 BART workers, have said they hope to avoid a strike.
Officials for BART and the unions have said they are millions of dollars apart on a deal. On Monday, a federal mediator assigned to the negotiations barred the two sides from releasing details on the contract talks, Isidro said.
In its last known proposal, BART offered employees a 10 percent raise over four years. The unions had asked for a three-year contract, with a 3.75 percent raise in each of the first two years and a 4 percent raise in the last year.
A strike on Monday would mark the second time this year that a job action has shut down the BART system. A strike in July lasted four and a half days, creating severe traffic problems and forcing commuters to miss work or crowd onto a limited number of other public transportation options.
BART's strike contingency plan includes chartering buses with the capability of carrying 6,000 passengers per day, according to a statement posted on Thursday on its website.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and John Wallace)