OAKLAND (AP) — Scores of commuters were scrambling Friday to find alternate plans after two of San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit's largest unions gave notice they plan to go on strike if they can't get a new contract over the weekend.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said a frustrated Veronica Scruggs, a San Francisco resident who takes the train to her custodial job at the State of California Office Building in downtown Oakland. "I'm trying to see if I can stay with some friends over here if BART goes on strike. I'm praying that they can get a deal done."
The unions gave 72-hour notice of a possible strike late Thursday night as a courtesy to passengers in preparation for a potentially chaotic Monday morning commute. The strike would start when their contracts expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
BART's last strike lasted six days in 1997. About 400,000 riders use BART each weekday. On Friday, area transit officials urged commuters to consider carpooling, taking buses or ferries, working from home and, if they must drive to work, leave earlier than usual.
Meanwhile, the unions' say its strike threat doesn't guarantee a walkout as around-the-clock negotiations are scheduled through the weekend.
Josie Mooney, a negotiator for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1021, said Friday outside Oakland's City Hall that talks were "fluid," as both sides want to avoid a strike. She said the parties are still going back and forth over salary, pensions, benefits and safety.
Employees want a 5 percent annual raise over the next three years. Currently, train operators and station agents are paid in the low $60,000 range. Employees average $16,590 in overtime annually and pay a flat $92 monthly fee for health insurance.
BART has offered a 1 percent raise annually over the next four years and wants employees to contribute to their pensions.
But Mooney, the BART workers' union rep said, "the economic package they have proposed is woefully inadequate given the fact that our workers haven't had a raise in nearly five years."
BART announced on Thursday that it was offering the unions a new contract proposal.
On Friday, BART spokesman Rick Rice said there was still "plenty of time" to reach an agreement.
"There was some progress yesterday, with both sides making proposals and responses," he said. "We're looking forward to continuing that when we meet again today and through the weekend."
Also Friday, the unions representing Oakland City clerical, public works and parking enforcement workers have called a 1-day strike on Monday outside City Hall.