OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Negotiators for Bay Area Rapid Transit and its striking train workers made progress during overnight contract talks, officials said Wednesday, raising hope that a deal might be struck when talks resume later in the day.
Josie Mooney, a chief negotiator with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1021, appeared optimistic following the bargaining session that started Tuesday evening and ended nearly nine hours later.
"We made some progress. We've worked very hard," Mooney told reporters. She declined further comment, saying a mediator had asked the parties not to speak to the media.
BART spokesman Rick Rice said the long meeting was a good sign.
"It's a lot better than not talking," he said.
Workers, however, remained on strike, causing stress and frustration for a third straight day during the morning commute in the region that relies heavily on commuter trains.
People lined up early for charter buses operated by the transit agency at five locations, waited patiently for ferries heading to San Francisco, and endured heavy rush-hour traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge that lightened considerably by mid-morning.
"I hope this is the last day," Teresa Hardin, 52, of Oakland, a benefits consultant, said before she boarded a San Francisco-bound ferry. "It's becoming harder to be sympathetic to either of the parties right now."
BART is the nation's fifth-largest rail system and serves more than 400,000 commuters each weekday. The strike began early Monday after talks broke off. Negotiations resumed Tuesday as political pressure and public pleas mounted to reach a settlement.
The governor's office sent two of the state's top mediators — the chair of the Public Employment Relations Board and the chief of the State Mediation and Conciliation Service — to facilitate further talks.
A letter from the state controller, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner said the strike has caused "widespread personal hardship and severe economic disruption," and it noted they were disappointed "about the lack of productive proposals and counterproposals in the days leading up to the strike."
BART carries passengers from the farthest reaches of San Francisco's densely populated eastern suburbs to San Francisco International Airport across the bay. With 44 stations in four counties and 104 miles of lines, the trains handle more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco, said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Transit authorities have made accommodations to help during the strike, including longer carpool lane hours and additional ferries and buses.
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 union train operators and station agents 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.
Other issues involved in the talks involved pensions, health care and safety.