People in the San Francisco Bay area faced a frustrating commute Friday as workers for the region's largest transit system walked off the job for the second time in four months.
The walkout began at midnight Thursday, the culmination of six months of on-again, off-again talks that fell apart. The impasse came after a marathon negotiating session that led the agency and its two largest unions closer to a contract deal.
About 400,000 riders take BART every weekday on the fifth-largest U.S. commuter rail system, which stretches from the Silicon Valley high-tech hub to the San Francisco International Airport.
Antoinette Bryant of Amalgamated Transit Union told The Associated Press early Friday that her workers were on strike as of midnight, while Cecille Isidro of the Service Employees International Union confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle that the unions were striking.
Agency spokesman Rick Rice also confirmed the strike by the unions in an email early Friday, but he said that the trains would finish their runs early Friday so riders wouldn't be stranded.
Roxanne Sanchez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said BART and the unions came "extremely close" to agreement on economic, health care and pension issues but that the parties were far apart on work rule issues.
She said the unions suggested taking the remaining issues to arbitration but management refused.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican countered that the agency needed to alter some of those rules to run the system efficiently. She said BART also needed to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements.
She urged the union leaders to let their members vote on management's offer by Oct. 27.
The impasse came after intense, round-the-clock talks with the participation of federal mediators to end the contract dispute that has left many riders under the repeated threat of a commute-crippling strike.
A four-day strike in July saw commuters lining up early in the morning for BART's charter buses and ferries across the bay, and enduring heavy rush-hour traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said it has developed plans to help people to get around, including providing two expanded carpool locations.
The key issues during most of the talks had been salaries and worker contributions to their health and pension plans.
Watchdogs are questioning an exclusive agreement between the City of Oakland and a non-profit group, tapped to lead a multi-million dollar project to redevelop the area around the Coliseum BART station.