Commuters in the San Francisco Bay area awoke to a difficult commute on Friday as workers at the Bay Area Rapid Transit system went out on strike, shutting down a commuter rail system that carries 400,000 people a day.
Authorities will run free charter buses and expand ferry services, but said those services were capable of transporting just 6,000 people, making it likely that many residents would opt to drive, further clogging already-congested roads.
BART chartered 140 buses to provide free service for commuters at nine stations early on Friday, but a spokeswoman did not have a count of how many actually showed up.
"We are doing the best we can to serve those commuters who have absolutely no other way to get into San Francisco," said BART spokeswoman Luna Salaver. "We regret that this work stoppage affects not only our customers but the rest of the region as well."
BART management and employee unions have been at loggerheads for months over pay and benefits for more than 2,000 train drivers and other union workers who are demanding large pay raises, in part to offset being asked to contribute to their pensions and other benefits.
Both sides had finally agreed on pay and benefits on Thursday night, but negotiations broke down over last-minute workplace rules proposed by management, Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro told Reuters.
The proposed rules included allowing same-day schedule changes, eliminating marginal pay increases for certain senior custodial staff and scrapping past practices that included guidelines for how an injured worker would be integrated back onto the job, she said.
The strike would end if BART management agrees to arbitration on the work rules still in dispute, said Peter Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021.
"All of a sudden these issues that weren't discussed at the table were deal breakers," Castelli said. "The blame for this process lies squarely at the feet of the BART district. We want to sign a contract, workers want to go to work, we want everyone to be able to get on with their lives."
BART CALLS STRIKE 'SHORTSIGHTED'
BART released a statement urging the union to put management's proposals to a vote or continue negotiating.
"It is unfortunate our union leaders have chosen to further disrupt the lives of Bay Area commuters while hurting the economy with a shortsighted strike when there are other options on the table," said BART spokesman Rick Rice.
BART train mechanic David Kwan, 59, marched alongside other workers outside of the Lake Merritt station in downtown Oakland, carrying a sign that read, "Unfair labor practice, on strike."
Kwan said he was prepared to picket every day for the duration of the strike, but many of his coworkers have families to support. "They have young children, so it will affect them more than me," he said.
BART commuter train service is used by more than 400,000 riders each day and helps lighten car traffic in San Francisco, which ranks as the third most congested metropolitan area in the United States after Los Angeles and Honolulu, according to the roadway traffic software company INRIX Inc.
The strike began at midnight local time (0700 GMT) after a final 28-hour negotiating session ended.
The walkout was the second this year. BART workers went on strike for four and a half days in July, forcing some residents to miss work and others to endure commutes of three hours or more.
Marcella Lentini, 25, who uses BART to commute to San Francisco from her home in Oakland, said she would have to work from home on Friday due to the strike. "I'll have to fend for myself next week," she added.
Union leaders have justified their demands for higher pay in part by pointing out that San Francisco and nearby Oakland are among the 10 most expensive U.S. cities in which to live. BART management says workers make $79,000 a year, plus benefits. The unions put the average worker's salary at $64,000.
Under the terms of the last contract offer made public, BART management offered a 12 percent pay raise to workers over four years.