Strike by San Francisco area public transport staff snarls traffic

Traffic congestion even worse than usual in busy Bay Area as commuter trains halted

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 7:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 7:32am

A strike by San Francisco-area rail workers that has snarled roads across the region entered a second day yesterday with management and unions still at loggerheads and not even bargaining.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) employees walked off the job on Friday after talks over a new contract broke down over pay increases and workplace rules, shutting down a system that carries about 400,000 passengers a day.

The Bart walkout is the second this year; the agency's workers went on strike for 41/2 days in July. Their unions and Bart management were unable to reach a deal in the following months.

Union leaders held a news conference on Friday afternoon, unveiling what they called a new set of proposals that could end the strike later that night if Bart officials accepted them.

But Bart officials said in a written statement they could not agree to the unions' "ultimatums", calling the proposals in essence the same offer that had already been rejected.

Union negotiators have demanded large pay rises, in part to offset being asked to contribute to their pensions and pay more for health care.

Commuters expressed frustration at the stalemate.

"I am mad as hell. It's a big hassle - thanks to Bart," said Jurgen Ware, who lives in the suburb of Dublin and had to use a car pool to get to his job in San Francisco. He also blamed rail workers, saying they "have a stranglehold on the city".

With trains halted for the day on Friday, dozens of commuters, many with bicycles, lined up at a bayside ramp in Alameda to board a morning ferry to San Francisco. Some commuters were angry, others nonchalant.

Outside a station often used by poor commuters in El Cerrito, across the bay from San Francisco, about a dozen picketing Bart workers on Friday heard honks of support from passing motorists and shouts of abuse from others.

"You're just being greedy. You're lucky to have a job. Get back to work," yelled Dennis Lindsey as he waited for a ride.

After the July walkout, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, obtained a court order preventing another strike for 60 days. But that order has expired and Brown would have to call a special session of the legislature to make another attempt to force an end to the strike.

Bart commuter-rail service helps alleviate car traffic in San Francisco, which ranks as the third-most-congested metropolitan area in the United States after Los Angeles and Honolulu.