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New transit strike averted in San Francisco area

Governor Brown orders seven-day inquiry into stalled talks

Governor Jerry Brown urged a quick end to the labor dispute, “for the sake of the people.”

AP/File

Governor Jerry Brown urged a quick end to the labor dispute, “for the sake of the people.”

SAN FRANCISCO — A second strike in a month by employees of the San Francisco Bay Area’s main commuter railroad was averted early Monday after Governor Jerry Brown intervened in the stalled negotiations.

Brown ordered a seven-day inquiry into the labor dispute, guaranteeing service for the Monday commute. He was responding to a request by the railroad’s management for the intervention under a state law that allows him to act if a strike would cause significant disruption to public transportation or endanger public health.

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The governor urged both sides to reach an agreement. “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,” he said in a prepared statement.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s two largest unions, representing 2,400 train operators, station agents, maintenance workers, and other employees, staged a four-day strike in early July after their four-year contract expired.

Under pressure from state mediators and with negotiations deadlocked, the management and the two unions, the Service Employees International Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union, had agreed to a 30-day cooling-off period that restored service. The extension ended Sunday night.

Brown’s order was issued under a law that allows the state to intervene if a strike will significantly disrupt public transportation services and endanger public health. It came after Tom Radulovich, the president of BART’s board of directors, had sent a letter to the governor requesting his intervention and a cooling off period of 60 days, said Rick Rice, a spokesman for the transit authority.

The board of investigators 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 the positions of BART and the unions, but will not find fault or issue a recommendation.

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Little progress in the negotiations was made in recent weeks, and both sides remained so far apart on key issues that union officials issued a three-day notice of a possible strike Thursday. Commuters were bracing for another stoppage at BART, which is used by 400,000 riders a day.

The inquiry ordered by Brown is expected to clarify the sticking points in the labor negotiations, but some labor leaders were immediately critical.

“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,” Roxanne Sanchez, the president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said in a statement.

Brown named to the board his senior adviser Jacob Appelsmith, director of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Associated Press reported.

He also named Micki Callahan, San Francisco’s director of human resources, and Robert Balgenorth, president emeritus of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, who both have union backgrounds.

The board will be working under the threat of a potential strike involving another Bay Area transit agency, as a union representing about 1,800 Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District bus operators, mechanics, dispatchers, and other employees gave notice of a strike Monday.

Both sides in the BART dispute had been under increasing pressure to avoid a strike. When BART workers went on strike in July, the transit service was shut down for four days, leading to clogged roadways and long lines for buses and ferries.

At issue are disagreements over wages and benefits. Union officials have argued that members deserve higher wages than those proposed by management because they accepted a wage freeze in contract negotiations during the economic crisis in 2009.

Arguing that the benefits of BART workers are more generous than those of other public workers in the Bay Area, management officials have pressed them to start making contributions to their state pension plans and to increase their health insurance payments from the current level of $92 a month.

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