SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Bay Area Rapid Transit workers vote Tuesday on whether to allow their union to call a strike if it is unable to reach a new labor deal with management.
The transit agency's two largest unions are holding strike authorization votes throughout the day.
Contract negotiations stopped during the vote.
Unions representing train drivers, mechanics, station agents and maintenance workers are fighting efforts by BART to get workers to contribute more to their health insurance and reduce overtime expenses.
The transit agency said it needs to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements.
The two sides said they are optimistic a deal can be reached, even though the unions filed a lawsuit Monday against BART seeking an unfair labor practices declaration and charging the transit agency with not bargaining in good faith.
But an affirmative vote Tuesday would allow union management to call a strike.
The union does not have to give the agency notice before a strike, but BART's unions have previously given 72 hours public notice.
The current contract expires Sunday night. About 400,000 people use BART to commute every weekday.
The last strike was in 1997 and lasted six days.
Paul Oversier, BART's assistant general manager of operations, told the Bay Area News Group that he hoped a strike is averted.
"We are doing the planning for it, but it's a little early right now,'' he said.
If service is disrupted, bus service will likely be increased to help bridge the gap. Employees want a 5 percent annual raise over the next three years.
Train operators and station agents are currently paid in the low $60,000 range, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
BART has offered a 1 percent raise annually over the next four years.