SAN FRANCISCO -- Rest easy Bay Area commuters -- at least for a while.

On Sunday, a judge officially ordered BART workers, who were ready to go on strike, to stay on the job for the next 60 days, ensuring that the trains will continue to zip along through mid-October.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow made the ruling at the request of Gov. Jerry Brown and BART management during a lightning-quick morning hearing. While widely expected, the verdict removed the threat of a strike Monday morning, and now, for the next two months.

BART and its two large labor unions agreed to return to the bargaining table in the afternoon in hopes of meeting their old Sunday night deadline for a deal. But they once again failed to reach an agreement, despite BART upping its offer slightly, and it remains unclear when both sides will return to negotiating.

Chris Finn, a BART train operator and recording secretary for the local Amalgamated Transit Union, speaks to the media outside of the Caltrans offices in
Chris Finn, a BART train operator and recording secretary for the local Amalgamated Transit Union, speaks to the media outside of the Caltrans offices in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )

The specter of a strike during the busy fall commute period now looms. Although management and labor leaders have been unable to hammer out a deal for the past four months, they remain optimistic that they'll finally see eye to eye this time -- eventually.

Still, the unions have said they will still strike come Oct. 11 if a settlement is not reached by then. The law only allows for one cooling-off period, a tactic that has been used to avert BART strikes five times since 1988. In four cases, it helped spur a deal.

BART said it had offered a fresh four-year proposal Saturday that includes 10 percent pay increases, up from 9 percent previously, and a 4 percent pension contribution, down from 5 percent before. But unions are still seeking a three-year deal, including a net 15 percent wage increase and a 0.5 pension contribution, and rejected BART's offer Sunday, ending negotiations for the near future, BART said.


Advertisement

"There is simply not enough movement from our unions to indicate we can reach an agreement," BART General Manager Grace Crunican said in a statement. "We will wait for the mediators to set a new calendar to resume negotiations and do our best to resolve this before the cooling off period ends."

At a news conference later in the day, Crunican expressed disappointment in the latest breakdown in negotiations.

"We came here this weekend to get a deal; we thought we would have one by now," Crunican said. "We're disappointed that the unions have walked out tonight.

"I think a 10 percent increase is more than fair to our employees."

Tom Hock, BART's chief negotiator, signaled for the second straight day that a lengthier break in the talks may be coming: "All three sides may take time to reflect," Hock said. "We've been at this a long time."

Leo Ruiz, a negotiator for the local Amalgamated Transit Union, said he thought management has "a 60-day plan" to stall and that talks would drag out for weeks. Even before negotiations began Sunday, he was asked whether a deal was possible, and he replied: "Absolutely not."

Roxanne Sanchez, president of the local Service Employees International Union, said BART negotiators haven't presented a "meaningful" proposal.

"BART management must come to the table prepared for real negotiations to reach a fair resolution so that we don't have a situation where we are all sitting here on Day 59 with no meaningful effort by management to negotiate," Sanchez said.

The unions are against the cooling off, but their lawyers did not oppose it in court, as the law that allows for a strike delay is tantamount to an executive order, and Sunday's hearing was considered routine. Karnow noted that his role was "very limited" and that he only had to declare that the second rail shutdown of the summer would cause public harm.

Union attorneys said in brief statements to the judge that they hoped a settlement could be reached in the next 60 days but declined to comment afterward. BART attorneys also attended but did not speak as the Attorney General's Office, representing the governor, presented its case during just a few minutes of testimony. Brown's office declined to comment.

The entire hearing took about 10 minutes. Karnow's order, issued an hour later, was just five sentences long.

"The court finds that a threatened or actual strike or lockout, if permitted to occur or continue," Karnow wrote in the injunction, "will significantly disrupt public transportation services and endanger the public's health, safety or welfare." The declaration took effect immediately.

Before the ruling, Sunday night's deadline to reach a deal had been the result of a weeklong delay issued by Brown last weekend, the first legal step before the two-month strike postponement can be declared.

During the past week, a three-member fact-finding panel formed by Brown investigated the talks, a legal requirement in which the commission essentially was charged with determining whether a strike would negatively impact the Bay Area.

On Friday, the panel issued a report concluding it would, leading Brown to call for the Sunday court hearing to officially seek the 60-day cool down.

The unions went on strike and shut down BART for 4½ days at the start of July. That work stoppage ended when both sides agreed to a 30-day contract extension.

Now, with some extra breathing room, the opposing parties said they remain committed to averting a second strike.

"I look forward -- and hope that -- this does result in a mutual contract agreement," BART Director Zakhary Mallett said outside the courtroom afterward.

Staff writers Thomas Peele and Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.