BART workers will strike Monday morning, union leaders announced Thursday after the transit agency's board voted to unilaterally impose a contract on its second largest union.
Jesse Hunt, president of local 1555 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told a news conference that he expects members of BART's two other unions will respect the picket lines set up by ATU's station agents and train operators.
Workers will complete Sunday shifts before stopping work, he said.
With some 340,000 BART riders looking for a way to get where they usually go, drivers should plan for a slow Monday morning commute.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the two sides to continue negotiations "before taking drastic action that will have an immediate effect on the daily lives of so many Californians."
A strike could be averted only if the BART board were to rescind its decision or negotiate a satisfactory deal by Sunday night, Hunt said. "Anything is possible."
But a resolution seemed unlikely Thursday evening.
The BART board appears unwilling to bend. It voted 9-0 Thursday afternoon to impose the contract on ATU, which rejected a tentative contract settlement Monday.
"All economic indicators are going the wrong way," said BART board member Joel Keller of Antioch before the vote. "As a person who's been supportive of labor, regretfully I'm going to make a motion to adopt imposing conditions."
In a 7:30 p.m. press briefing, BART board member James Fang of San Francisco said the train operators would be "self centered" if they go on strike, but he expressed hope that negotiations could resume before then.
"Please come back to the bargaining table," Fang said of the union members.
Fang said that even though ATU members make up 25 percent of the BART workforce, they account for nearly half of the $29 million the district pays in overtime annually.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said it was unfair to accuse management of fomenting the strike. "Only they (union members) can choose to walk off the job."
Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said traffic on Bay Area highways will be much worse Monday morning if the workers carry out their threat.
"For the average person, I'd say leave for work earlier on Monday morning," Rentschler said. "Other public transit systems don't have the capacity to absorb the loss of more than 300,000 train riders a day, particularly on the Bay Bridge corridor but also in many other corridors in the region."
The imposed contract terms are somewhat harsher than those in the settlement, requiring ATU members to pay 7 percent of their salaries toward their state CalPERS pensions. The settlement had BART picking up that cost.
BART management said they are requiring ATU to make a larger sacrifice because the imposed contract is for one year only. The tentative settlement would have spread cost-cutting measures over four years, said BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger.
Leaders of the two other unions -- the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- have said they would honor the picket lines, even though both overwhelmingly approved the settlement that ATU rejected.
BART and ATU met for nearly seven hours Wednesday before adjourning with no agreement, Johnson said early Thursday.
He said BART offered ATU a slight variation on a tentative settlement voted down Monday by the union's rank and file. Management offered to let ATU keep six floating holidays in exchange for the union agreeing to accept changes in work rules. The deal would have enabled BART to cut costs by phasing out five station agent jobs through attrition, he said.
"ATU rejected the idea," Johnson said.
Even before the talks failed Wednesday night, several BART board members had said they were prepared to impose a contract on ATU because the transit system desperately needs to reduce costs to avoid fare increases, service cuts or layoffs. "Sometimes you have to go through short-term pain to make a long-term gain," Johnson said Wednesday afternoon.
On Monday and Tuesday, Hunt said many of his members wanted a two-year contract rather than BART's four-year offer that locks workers into a wage freeze even if the economy turns around part way through the contract.
News of the strike prompted divided responses from commuters and Bay Area officials Thursday afternoon.
In a statement, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums encouraged commuters to "remain vigilant" while the labor issues are worked out. "It is our sincere hope that these negotiations get resolved in a timely matter. ... These actions could have a tremendous impact on our business community at a time they should have our full support."
One Antioch man who lost his job in the recession said he feels little sympathy for workers who threaten to strike over a contract that has no pay cuts or layoffs over four years.
"Let them strike," Paul Banducci of Antioch wrote in an e-mail. "How dare they in this economy with so many people making sacrifices complain that cutting out a raise for a small amount of time is too much to bear?"
At the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART station, Nikki Waters said she planned to cope with a strike by telecommuting from her home in Hayward instead of riding BART daily to work in Oakland. She said she grew up in a family of union members but her husband is unemployed.
"I'm really torn," she said. "It's hard to be supportive when we're already struggling so much."
Waters didn't blame either the union workers or BART. "It's hard for both sides." But she worried about the negative impact a strike would have on the economy, the environment and workers' productivity.
"It's not time to play hardball, especially when people (will be) sitting in traffic Monday morning." The effect could be enormous if the strike continued until Labor Day weekend, when the Bay Bridge will be closed for construction work until Sept. 8.
Jeremy Lemhardt did not expect the strike to last that long. He commutes to work in Dublin from San Francisco, but often works from home. "They should be able to resolve it pretty soon," he said.
Even riders who do not regularly rely on BART were sympathetic to the problems a strike could produce.
"They have a right to strike, but there should be another way besides inconveniencing the public," said Ken Kahrs. But he questioned how well BART officials are managing the agency if they are encountering financial strains even though trains are crowded with riders paying increased fares. "They must be taking in a lot of revenue."
Staff writers Angela Woodall and Kelly Rayburn contributed to this story.
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