BART Strike on Hold, Panel Working to Find Resolution

Trains ran as usual for the Monday morning commute

While Bay Area commuters were thankful Monday morning that BART trains were up and running, thanks to an 11th-hour reprieve Sunday night by the governor, riders could be facing the same dilemma next week if a permanent solution isn't hammered out.

Two hours before the midnight work stoppage was set to launch, Gov. Jerry Brown stepped in to avert a BART strike on Sunday, which many feared would cause a crippling commute Monday morning. It would have been the second strike since early July.

The bitter battle centers on wages and pensions.

But this reprieve is temporaryjust seven daysand unless something drastic occurs, the same scenario could be played out next week, too.

Early Monday morning, many of BART's 400,000 daily riders were both relieved and annoyed about the averted strikeand the looming threat  of yet another possible one.

"It's kind of stressful, because I really depend on BART," said Oakland commuter Duane Freeman.

"Did I sleep?" commuter Karen Rambaud of Alameda asked rhetorically, saying she was up at 2 a.m. checking for BART updates. "I was really anxious. This affects my health and well-being."

Rambaud and other riders said they were quite pleased regarding the temporary reprieve and the governor's help.

The order issued by Gov. Brown came under a law that allows intervention by the state if a strike will significantly disrupt public transportation services and endanger public health.
"For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge - in the strongest terms possible -  the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved,'' Brown said in the order.
The board will report its findings to the governor, who can then petition a court to call a 60-day cooling-off period, said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown. The report will explain BART's and the unions' positions, but it will not find fault or issue a recommendation.
In a statement, BART spokesman Rick Rice said the transit authority's board president, Tom Radulovich, sent a letter to the governor requesting his intervention and a cooling off period of 60 days. The order issued by the governor delays the strike action for just a week.
"The formal impartial fact-finding that accompanies the cooling-off period will help clarify the points of difference between the proposals,'' the statement said.
Union leaders issued a critical statement after the order, accusing BART management negotiators of stalling until only hours remained before the strike would have begun to provide counter proposals on core pay and benefits. They met for nearly 13 hours Saturday and nearly 12 hours Sunday before the governor stepped in.
"Our hope is that the Governor's Board of Investigation will reveal how little time BART management has spent at the bargaining table in the past 30 days, compared with how much time they've spent posturing to the media,'' said SEIU 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez.
BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said late Sunday that it is "extremely frustrating'' that the unions were misrepresenting the improved proposals they've been getting, including wage increases, and the transit authority was hard at work all weekend despite allegations of absence.
"We made several proposals this weekend and they all went in one direction and that was up, up, up,'' said Trost.
Big differences remain on key issues including wages, pensions, worker safety and health care costs. Union train operators and station agents average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. They pay nothing toward their pensions and a $92-a-month flat fee for health insurance, according to BART. 
And while tensions were still high regarding how much BART employees should make, the employees and the train service, in general, were heroes on Monday, when a big rig fire on the westbound side of the Bay Bridge burst into flames. Instead of driving to San Francisco, many commuters realized the bridge would be backed up for hours and hopped on a BART train instead.

Here is Gov. Brown's full response:

Dear Ms. Crunican, Ms. Bryant, Ms. Sanchez, and Ms. Hamilton:

At the request of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, I am appointing a board to investigate the threatened strike that would disrupt public transportation services in the Bay Area.

This board is appointed under the authority of Government Code, § 3612, subdivision (a), because the strike will significantly disrupt public transportation services and will endanger the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

The three individuals appointed to the board of investigation are: Jacob Appelsmith, Chairman Robert Balgenorth Micki Callahan The Government Code prohibits any strike or lockout while the board completes its investigation. (Gov. Code, § 3612, subd. (b).) The board is directed to provide me with a written report within the next seven days.

For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge - in the strongest terms possible - the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved.

Sincerely, Edmund G. Brown Jr.

NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith, Kimberly Tere, Stephanie Chuang and the Associated Press' Terence Chea and Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report.

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