Bay Area Rapid Transit managers and union leaders returned to the bargaining table Saturday in a last-minute bid to avoid a strike that would leave 400,000 commuters scrambling for other ways to get to work.
BART's two largest unions Thursday issued a 72-hour notice that employees would walk off the job Monday if they didn't reach agreement on a new contract by midnight Sunday. The labor action would shut down one of the nation's largest transit systems for the second time in a month.
The two sides resumed negotiations around 10 a.m. Saturday, with wide gaps remaining on key issues including wages, pensions, worker safety and health care costs.
Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said no progress was made during Friday's negotiations, which ended earlier than she had expected.
"Our team is giving it our best shot. We really do not want to disrupt service Monday," Bryant said Saturday. "We want a deal. We will do whatever it takes."
BART spokesman Rick Rice said agency managers are hopeful they can reach an agreement before Monday or continue negotiations without a service shutdown.
"We're making every effort possible to avoid any disruptions on Monday," Rice said Saturday.
Bay Area agencies are preparing ways to get commuters to work if there's a strike, but officials say there's no way to make up for the BART system.
"BART really is the backbone of the transit network. No other transit agency has the ability to absorb BART'scapacity if there's a disruption," said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "We're still hoping for the best, but it's time to prepare for the worst."
If there's a BART strike, transit agencies are planning to add bus and ferry service, keep carpool lanes open all day and even give away coffee gift cards to encourage drivers to pick up riders. They're also encouraging workers to avoid peak traffic hours or telecommute if possible.
When BART workers shut down train service for four days in early July, roadways were packed and commuters waited in long lines for buses and ferries. The unions agreed to call off that strike and extend their contracts until Sunday while negotiations continued.
A strike next week could lead to more gridlock than last month's strike, which came around the Fourth of July holiday when many workers were on vacation.
Bay Area and state officials have been pressuring BART managers and union leaders to reach an agreement this weekend, saying a strike would create financial hardship for working families and hurt the region's economy.