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Published July 02, 2013, 04:02 PM

Bay Area transit agency: Labor talks to resume

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stalled contract talks between striking San Francisco Bay Area train workers and the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency will resume, transit officials said on Tuesday.

By: PAUL ELIAS,Associated Press, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stalled contract talks between striking San Francisco Bay Area train workers and the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency will resume, transit officials said on Tuesday.

BART spokesman Rick Rice said BART officials were notified by state mediators that negotiations will resume at 6 p.m.

The news comes as political pressure builds for union members and BART to reach a settlement.

The state controller, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner urged both sides to -return to the bargaining table in a letter sent earlier in the day.

They said the strike already has caused widespread personal hardship and severe economic disruption.

Commutes in the region were thrown into chaos when members of the two largest unions representing BART workers went on strike early Monday after talks with management broke down.

BART is the nation's fifth-largest rail system and carries passengers from the furthest reaches of San Francisco's densely populated eastern suburbs to San Francisco International Airport across the bay.

Freeways have choked to a standstill. Lines for ferry service tripled, and boats were crammed to standing-room only.

Buses were stuffed with riders who felt fortunate to be on board after many commuters were literally left in the dust when buses zoomed by without as much as a honk or an explanation.

BART said charter buses at four stations reached capacity before 7 a.m. and could not accommodate any more passengers.

About a hundred people waited single-file at the downtown Berkeley bus station. Some had watched multiple, full F buses cruise past for hours.

"It's already starting to wear on people," said Hilary Hartman, who arrived at San Francisco's Transbay Terminal at 6:45 a.m. Her boss sent her home to work an hour later when she was unable to get on a bus.

"You see the buses trickling in from the East Bay, and it's standing-room only, and people's faces are not super happy when they're getting off," Hartman said.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, a nonprofit organization focused on public transportation and walkable communities in the Bay Area, suggested employers allow workers to telecommute.

"Truth is, on a nice summer day, it's good to telecommute," he said. "Hopefully this won't go too long. If it continues into a non-holiday week next week, we're going to find a lot of people settling into new patterns, finding carpools."

BART, with 44 stations in four counties and 104 miles of lines, handles more than 40 percent of commuters coming from the East Bay to San Francisco, said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Transit authorities have made accommodations to help, including longer carpool lane hours and additional ferries and buses. BART doubled the number of buses serving West Oakland to 36 on Tuesday.

The striking unions and management reported being far apart on key issues including salary, pensions, health care and safety.

The unions, which represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, mechanics, maintenance workers and professional staff, want a 5 percent raise each year over the next three years.

BART said union train operators and station agents average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers also pay a flat $92 monthly fee for health insurance.

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