BART Strike Threat Thrown Into High Gear

Talks nearing milestone 100th day

Hundreds of thousands of BART riders find themselves in a familiar spot tonight: in the middle of union negotiations between BART management and BART's three unions with a strike threat hanging over them.

At this hour, contract talks between both parties are going down to the wire once again, with a midnight contract deadline looming. 

And while both sides are talking tough, the unions are not yet talking about when they would walk off the job, even though technically they could at one minute after midnight.

At least one union leader has pledged that Monday is the earliest day there could be a strike.  Union leaders told reporters late Thursday that they would give commuters reasonable notice -- likely more than a day before any strike.

Both sides held a marathon session Thursday, but admit the chances of reaching an agreement by the midnight deadline appear slim.

"We're not going to lock out our employees," BART spokesman Linton Johnson said late Thursday. "We want them to come to work. We're going to pay them at the same rate." He added BART managers did not want a strike.

"I know we've been working hard," said Jean Hamilton, the president of Local 3993 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 200 middle managers, late Thursday. "People are tired. We want to get a contract settled."  

Hamilton said a strike could be called by the unions "at any time," but said the unions are committed to staying at the table as long as the district is bargaining in good faith.

If the trains do stop, BART's 360,000 daily riders would be forced to find new ways to get to where they're going.

Although the contracts for BART's 2,824 union workers are about to expire, the most likely scenario is that talks will continue without a contract.

Early Thursday, Johnson said some progress has been made and he's "hopeful" that an agreement can be reached, but warned "we still have substantial ground to cover."

Hamilton said contract talks "sometimes move forward and sometimes move sideways."

Although members of BART's three largest labor unions, including Local 3993, voted last month to authorize a strike, Hamilton said the unions don't want to go on strike.

The contract calls for BART workers to give management 72 hours before they go on strike, but the unions point out theoretically they could go on strike immediately after the contract expires.

Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.

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