OAKLAND, Calif. — Commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area got up before dawn today and endured heavy traffic on roadways, as workers for the region’s largest transit system walked off the job for the second time in four months.
People were lined up well before 5 a.m. at a Bay Area Rapid Transit train station in Walnut Creek for one of the charter buses BART was running into San Francisco. Traffic at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza into San Francisco and the roads leading to it also appeared heavier than normal for the early morning.
Other alternatives to BART include ferries and Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District buses.
The walkout began at midnight Thursday, the culmination of six months of on-again, off-again talks that fell apart. BART and the unions came “extremely close” to agreement on economic, health care and pension issues, but the parties were far apart on work rule issues, said Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021.
The impasse came after a marathon negotiating session with the participation of federal mediators.
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 this morning that her workers were on strike as of midnight, while Cecille Isidro of the SEIU 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 early today, but he said that the trains would finish their early runs 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.”
The unions said one of the work rules that BART wanted to change was employees’ fixed work schedules. Some employees work four-day, 10-hour shifts while others work five-day, eight-hour shifts. Union officials said BART wanted to schedule people as they saw fit.
BART officials say work rules refer to past practices that require approval from unions and management to change. The rules make it difficult to implement technological changes or add extra service on holidays because of a special event, the agency says.
Sanchez 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.
A four-day strike in July saw commuters lining up early in the morning for BART’s charter buses and ferries across the bay, and enduring heavy rush-hour traffic.