BART unions late Thursday officially gave 72-hour notice of an impending rail line strike for Monday morning, telling riders they will need to find another way to get around if a deal is not reached this weekend.

The notice, the last formal step needed before a strike can begin, does not guarantee a shutdown but essentially starts a clock that will expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday for management and unions to reach a deal. They remained far apart on the key issues of pay and contributions to health care and pensions.

"It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in the same situation that we were in 30 days ago, with no real progress made by management to address worker concerns about safety and wage cuts," said Roxanne Sanchez, president of the local Service Employees International Union.

The notice comes a day after BART officials said they had not submitted a new economic proposal -- covering the key issues of pay, health care and pensions -- since July 2, days before the first strike ended. But it was unclear whether they would budge before Sunday night's deadline.

"We are very disappointed and hope they reconsider their options," BART spokesman Rick Rice said. "A strike only stalls and delays the decisions that need to be made while using our riders as pawns."

The BART board of directors had scheduled a special meeting for Friday morning to discuss the labor negotiations in a closed-door session.

In the morning, the Amalgamated Transit Union called in union representatives from around the country to rail against BART's chief negotiator, consultant Tom Hock, whose contract is for $399,000.


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"What he's bringing here is a very expensive no, no, no," Bill McLean, the international vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said at the Oakland press conference.

Labor activists and local religious leaders also characterized the negotiations as part of a larger fight to keep the labor movement strong in the Bay Area amid growing economic inequality.

"This is not Wisconsin, this is not Michigan," where lawmakers sought to limit collective bargaining rights, said Bob Allen, a public transit advocate for Oakland-based nonprofit group Urban Habitat.

"It's going to exacerbate inequality" if the BART workers lose their fight, Allen said.

Amid growing commuter anger over the threat of a second summer strike, BART workers also sought to dispel some of the animosity directed against them.

"People think being a train operator means just pushing buttons," said Beverly Sullivan, a member of the transit union for 22 years through her work for BART and AC Transit. "You have no idea."

The children of BART operator Sarah Gwaltney have come home from school asking their mom why BART workers are "so greedy," she said.

"I was on welfare for five years, I was dependent on taxpayers. And now I'm not," said Gwaltney, who was in a cast after tearing a ligament on the job. "All they see is that we push a button. It's so much more than that."

But BART countered at its own press conference that the agency's medical costs have surged 251 percent in 12 years while pension costs have grown 126 percent in 10 years.

Current union workers make about $76,500 in gross pay on average, contribute nothing toward their pensions and $92 a month for health benefits. While the cost of health care has soared, BART says workers' monthly contributions have only risen slightly each year, from $75 in 2006, leaving management to pick up a bigger share of the tab.

BART noted that union leaders planned to walk out of Thursday's negotiating session at 4 p.m. so they could stage a rally and march toward BART headquarters.

"We believe there is still enough time to come to a common sense contract agreement," BART spokesman Jim Allison said. "We believe there is both a way to ensure our employees are adequately compensated and that the public is served by reigning in the rising cost of benefits."

BART noted its 95 charter buses that would be secured for limited service during the strike, slightly more than last time, would cost the agency $114,000 a day.

"There doesn't have to be a strike, we hope that there isn't a strike, but it's wise for people to have a Plan B to know how to get around if those trains aren't running because union workers walk off the job," Allison said.

After the back-in-forth in the morning, union workers and supporters including actor Danny Glover staged a rally in Oakland on Thursday afternoon.

Contact Mike Rosenberg at mrosenberg@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.