The potential for chaotic commutes around the Bay Area sharply escalated late Thursday when BART unions officially gave 72-hour notice of a strike starting Monday morning.

However, in another twist Friday morning, the BART union representing train operators, station agents and other workers called on Gov. Jerry Brown to use his powers to issue a 60-day cooling off period. That could avert a strike, though BART management is opposed, saying it would prefer a strike now during the summer months when traffic is lighter. A spokesman for Brown declined to comment Friday.

A San Francisco-bound BART train at the West Oakland station, May 2013. (Laura A. Oda, Bay Area News Group)
A San Francisco-bound BART train at the West Oakland station, May 2013. (Laura A. Oda, Bay Area News Group) ( Laura A. Oda )

Regardless, both sides could still reach a deal by their Sunday night deadline to avoid a strike, and management and unions said they would strongly prefer to avert a shutdown. Unions and management leaders were back at the bargaining table Friday after making minor progress toward a deal Thursday, with disputes over wages, pension and health care contributions and safety provisions continuing to be the key sticking points.

Official confirmation of a strike is the last step necessary for the unions before pulling the trigger on a work stoppage following rank-and-file members' overwhelming vote on Tuesday to authorize a potential strike.


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"We are not at impasse, and we believe that we could reach a fair agreement that recognizes the extraordinary work that our members perform to maintain BART's outstanding service record and high customer satisfaction ratings," says the letter from the local Service Employees International Union says, which joined the Amalgamated Transit Union in issuing the strike notice around 11 p.m. on Thursday. "However, BART's continued refusal to bargain in good faith leaves us with no option but to strike in protest."

The letter says that if a deal is not reached, the union will continue to work into the wee hours Monday morning to wrap up service that would begin on Sunday night but not show up to get the trains running for Monday's normal start time for service.

BART officials said they were eager to continue negotiating toward a settlement.

"We will pay attention to it but we certainly expect to be back at the table negotiating, as they said, to avoid this," BART spokesman Rick Rice said late Thursday night.

Both sides offered counter-proposals earlier on Thursday that were slightly closer to a middle ground, though they remained far apart on key issues such as wages.

The ATU, the smaller union, asked Brown for the 60-day delay while the SEIU and BART management both want to resolve their issues now. Still, SEIU local president John Arantes said Friday that if the governor issues a delay, his union would abide by it and show up to work to avert a shutdown.

"We will always respect what the governor says," Arantes said.

A 60-day delay could put the strike right in the cross hairs of Labor Day weekend, when the Bay Bridge is currently scheduled to close so the new east span can open.

Brown, a former Oakland mayor, has championed the bridge project and a BART shutdown coupled with a Bay Bridge closure would completely cut off Oakland and San Francisco by any means other than boat, marring the celebratory opening of the bridge. Transportation officials are set to decide by July 10 whether the new bridge, which has come under fire for safety concerns, will still open on Labor Day weekend.

BART workers joined employees of the city of Oakland at a news conference in Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland on Friday morning as city workers announced a one-day strike set for Monday. Dozens of SEIU workers wore purple shirts that read "Will strike if provoked" and buttons that said "enough is enough," as they rallied in front of several news cameras and reporters.

Workers at AC Transit, the region's third-biggest transit operator, are also threatening a shutdown for Monday morning. Worker contracts at BART, AC Transit and the city of Oakland all expire at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.

"We head back into negotiations on Friday afternoon, and I am bringing my toothbrush and a clean union T-shirt so I can stay all weekend," said Yvonne Williams, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union representing AC Transit workers.

The BART board was set to discuss the labor talks in a closed session meeting Friday evening as staff negotiators continue to discuss a deal throughout the day.

If a strike is called, some BART riders plan to push through and drive alone, others intend to carpool, many will try other transit options -- and some are left wondering what they'll do.

"I don't know how I will get around," said Dan McClure, an unemployed Oakland resident without a car who rides BART several times per week. "How do you get around to look for a job if the trains aren't running?"

Dominic Campisi, a Walnut Creek attorney who regularly commutes to San Francisco, said he expects he would resort to taking a carpool with other friends, as he did during the 1997 BART strike.

"Traffic will be a mess, but there are other ways to get around. They will take longer, though," Campisi said Friday while waiting for a train at the Walnut Creek BART station. "It will not be the end of the world."

Shelley Sun of Danville, a daily BART commuter, said she is not looking forward to driving to her software job in San Francisco if the trains aren't running.

"It's going to take a long time to get across the Bay Bridge," she said. "It will be very disruptive."

The average BART employee made about $83,000 in gross pay in 2012. Including benefits and other perks, BART's average cost for each employee was about $116,000 last year. Virtually all of BART's 3,200-plus employees are scheduled to receive a 1 percent raise on Monday as part of their current four-year deal.

Staff writer Denis Cuff contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.