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BART, unions resuming talks
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OAKLAND  (AP) — A San Francisco Bay Area rapid transit agency and two of its unions were back at the bargaining table Thursday for 11th-hour talks as the possibility loomed of a second transit strike in less than three months.

Bay Area Rapid Transit's chief negotiator, Thomas Hock, said he planned to present a new offer to leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 less than 12 hours before a 60-day, state-mandated cooling-off period that prohibited a strike expires at midnight Thursday.

Hock, who said the BART board gave the authority Thursday to seek a new deal, would not disclose any specifics, and he said he believes the parties are still "a lot of millions" apart.

"My hope has been always is that this thing gets settled," Hock said. "We're prepared to put something out there that hopefully gives them something to look at to take back to their membership to vote."

With a roller bag in tow, ATU President Antonette Bryant said the unions were anxious to see the latest offer.

"We'll have to see if it's real. It would be important to actually be substantive and something that we can talk about," Bryant said.

If the clock strikes midnight with no agreement, workers could walk off the job leaving an estimated 400,000 commuters stranded again if the nation's fifth-largest rail system shuts down.

A bit of a setback occurred Wednesday as leaders of the unions thought they had a deal with BART management but said the proposal presented late Tuesday was taken off the table.

"We thought we were really close and they totally yanked it off the table," Bryant said. "We gave them a counteroffer, and the next day they said, 'Oh, you misunderstood what we proposed.'

"We said, 'No we didn't.'"

But Hock reiterated the view of BART's management that the unions are mischaracterizing the situation and that it was miscommunication by mediators that led to confusion over the proposal initiated Tuesday.

"The mediator misunderstood and miscommunicated what had been talked about because we had never put that offer out there in any way, shape or form," Hock said. "It's totally inconsistent with everything we've talked about since Day One and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I don't know how they got to that type of a conclusion."

The parties would not comment on the specifics of the proposal, as Bryant said it appeared to be the closest the parties have been. The parties have reached agreement on pension contributions but were still at odds over compensation, health care and safety.

The unions want a raise of nearly 12 percent over three years while BART has proposed a 10 percent increase over four years. BART said workers from the two unions now average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. The workers also pay a flat $92 monthly fee for health insurance.

On Monday, union leaders declined to give a customary 72 hours' notice this week that they'd be striking once the cooling off period expires. The unions said they didn't provide the three-day notice because they wanted to leave every possible option open for a resolution, but the lack of notice does nothing to stop workers from taking the picket lines starting Friday.

"If they are bringing a new offer to the table, give us an opportunity to take a look at that deal and see if it's something we can work with because, again, the unions are not trying to strike," Bryant said. "That's the reason we did not give a 72-hour notice."

BART workers walked off the job for 4 1/2 days in July, leading to jammed bridges, crowded buses for commuters throughout the Bay Area before Gov. Jerry Brown mandated the cooling-off period.

During the current talks, BART officials unveiled a $21 million contingency plan to give commuters more options, including free charter buses, extra carpool lanes and even limited train service run by managers.