BART trains and traffic flow at the Rockridge station in Oakland. If the… (Laura A. Oda, Contra Costa…)
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking a judge's help to prevent a potentially crippling Bay Area transit strike as negotiators continue working to end an acrimonious, months-long contract dispute.
If the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and its biggest unions do not reach a deal by Sunday morning, Brown will ask a San Francisco judge to order a 60-day "cooling-off period" in which workers would be prevented from walking off the job.
A strike would "significantly disrupt public transportation services in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and endanger the public health, safety and welfare," according to a petition filed Friday by Brown and California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.
Meanwhile, representatives from a transit union and a Bay Area business group said negotiations have made some progress.
"It's definitely getting closer," said Des Patten, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 1021. He said there could be a resolution as soon as Saturday.
Union leaders have previously opposed Brown's involvement in the dispute, but Patten said "it has probably been helpful" setting a timeline for negotiations.
John Grubb, chief of staff at the Bay Area Council, which represents the region's business interests, also credited the governor's involvement in pushing both sides closer. Brown, he said, "helped remove some of the leverage of a strike."
BART spokesman Rick Rice said that even though "there's been some movement" in the negotiations, "there's more work to do. We're committed to trying to get it done this weekend."
In a statement, Brown said: "I urge all parties to think of the public and resolve this matter without delay."
The 104-mile train system known as BART carries 400,000 riders every weekday. Transit officials and union leaders have been embroiled for months in a dispute over salaries, health benefits, pension contributions and safety issues.
Unions have sought pay raises of at least 20% over the next three years, while BART management offered 8% during the four-year contract.
Previously there has not even been an agreement on how far apart the two sides remain. BART officials said there was a $62-million difference over three years; the unions pegged it at $56 million.
About 2,600 workers went on strike for 41/2 days in early July, causing chaos in the Bay Area. Workers returned to the job and agreed to continue negotiating for 30 days.
When it appeared that another strike was imminent last weekend, Brown stepped in and appointed a three-member investigatory panel, preventing a walkout for seven days.
The panel issued a report Friday bolstering Brown's case to block a strike, saying a stoppage would clog roads, cause more traffic accidents and slow response times by emergency personnel. The report also cited an estimate from a regional business group saying a strike would cause the Bay Area to lose $73 million per day in gross domestic product.
Times staff writer Anthony York contributed to this report.