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BART and union negotiators reached a tentative contract agreement Sunday night, averting a strike and a Bay Area transit nightmare.

The roughly 340,000 Bay Area passengers who ride BART daily can breathe a sigh of relief about their Monday commute. The majority of the roughly 865 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 that had threatened to strike must now vote to approve the contract.

A vote should take place early next week, said Jesse Hunt, president of the union. He will recommend that the union's members approve the pact.

"After four-and-a-half months of negotiating, we made some difficult decisions," he said. "But we finally have something that is equitable for our members."

The four-year agreement achieves cost savings, reduces the cost of union employees' benefits package and makes changes to work rules that govern the way jobs are done at BART, said Dorothy Dugger, the transit agency's general manager.

Dugger said the contract achieves the $38 million in savings BART sought from the union, whose members make up 25 percent of BART's work force. She would not go into specifics about the terms of the contract. Two other BART unions ratified cost-saving contracts last week.

The agreement "is a good thing for our customers and a good thing for the Bay Area," said Dugger, BART's general manager. She also sounded an apologetic note.

"We truly regret the inconvenience to the public," she said. "On-time performance is important to us."


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In a similar vein, "We regret that it (the agreement) has come through in this way and we are pleased to be able to keep the trains running," said Hunt, the union's president.

BART hopes to save $100 million in labor costs to help offset an anticipated $310 million shortfall over the next four years.

Unlike its fellow unions, ATU rejected a contract last week, but Hunt said the new offering managed to address the union members' concerns and that he would work to get it accepted.

News of the tentative contract was good for Bay Area commuters who dreaded trying to get to work today without BART, the backbone of the area's transit system.

Travel times and traffic jams were expected to increase sharply, and a strike would have dealt a blow to the already devastated Bay Area economy.

San Ramon resident Selma Forkash, who was at the Walnut Creek BART station Sunday night, was one of those who would have been inconvenienced.

"I would have driven if they struck," said Forkash, who commutes on BART mainly on the weekends. "I prefer to take BART. If they had gone on strike it would have been inconvenient and not very green."

"A lot of people I talked to thought the BART folks were being unreasonable," Forkash added. "They were demanding too much considering the economic climate we are in."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who attended the talks Sunday, also hailed the agreement.

"Not just riders of BART would have been affected," he said. "But tomorrow will be like any other commute day on a Monday."

BART director Tom Radulovich, who rode his bicycle to a Sunday news conference announcing the accord, said, "As someone who doesn't own a car and rides BART, I'm really pleased, just like the other 300,000-plus riders."

Huddled around four tables pushed together in a bare, windowless room in a building on Broadway in downtown Oakland, BART and union negotiators worked over the weekend to craft a contract.

After members of ATU rejected a proposed contract last week, BART's board of directors imposed a contract on the union, which then announced it would strike today. The other BART unions said they would respect the picket line.

The strike threat starkly illustrated the fragility of the area's transportation system. Bay Area bus systems, ferries, trains and other transportation providers readied quickly when news of the strike broke Thursday.

But public transit has taken a beating in recent years, with declining ridership, tax receipts and state funding. In many cases, reserve buses and extra workers simply don't exist to fill the gap.

Reach Janis Mara at 925-952-2671. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jmara. Staff writer Sean Maher contributed to this story.