OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — People in the San Francisco Bay area faced a frustrating Friday commute as workers for the region's largest transit system walked off the job for the second time in four months.
Officials from both unions representing workers for Bay Area Rapid Transit as well as the agency itself confirmed the strike.
The walkout began at midnight Thursday, the culmination of six months of on-again, off-again talks that fell apart. The impasse came after a marathon negotiating session that led the agency and its two largest unions closer to a contract deal.
About 400,000 riders take BART every weekday on the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail system. The system carries passengers from the farthest reaches of the densely populated eastern suburbs to San Francisco International Airport across the bay.
Antoinette Bryant of Amalgamated Transit Union told The Associated Press early Friday morning that her workers were on strike as of midnight, while Cecille Isidro of the Service Employees International Union confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle that the unions were striking.
Agency spokesman Rick Rice also confirmed the strike by the unions in an email sent early Friday, but he said that the trains would finish their runs early Friday so riders wouldn't be stranded.
"They don't need to strike," he said. "They could instead take BART's offer to a vote of their members or continue to discuss options that could lead to a resolution."
Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said BART and the unions came "extremely close" to agreement on economic, health care and pension issues but that the parties were far apart on work rule issues.
She said the unions suggested taking the remaining issues to arbitration but management refused.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican countered that the agency needed to alter some of those rules to run the system efficiently. She said BART also needed to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements.
"We are not going to agree to something we can't afford. We have to protect the aging system for our workers and the public," Crunican said.
She urged the union leaders to let their members vote on management's offer by Oct. 27.
The impasse came after intense, round-the-clock talks with the participation of federal mediators to end the contract dispute that has left many riders under the repeated threat of a commute-crippling strike.
A four-day strike in July saw commuters lining up early in the morning for BART's charter buses, ferries across the bay, and enduring heavy rush-hour traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
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