BART Faces Second Union Strike in 3 Months

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Bay Area commuters faced up to four-hour drives to get to work Friday morning after BART workers went on strike for the second time in three months.
     Despite months of talks and a 60-day cooling-off period that Gov. Jerry Brown ordered in August, the rapid transit district and its unions could not reach an agreement that would have kept trains running and up to 400,000 daily commuters off the freeways.
     Federal mediators came in earlier this week and nudged the sides closer to agreement on the three divisive issues: wages, pensions and health care contributions. BART's latest offer included a 12 percent pay raise, changing pension contributions from 0 to 4 percent and a monthly health care contribution increase of $52 over four years.
     Unions agreed to the pension and health care contribution offers, but demanded a 15.9 percent pay raise. The average BART union worker already makes $76,000 - the highest salary among all California transit agencies.
     Other sticking points include perks that the transit district wants to dump but unions won't give up, like calling in sick before working four days, and receiving overtime for the fifth day.
     BART workers last staged a four-day walkout in June before agreeing to another month of negotiations. When that expired, Brown ordered the cooling-off period so the two sides could continue talks.
     The governor's hands are now tied, however, since state law allows him only one opportunity to halt potential strikes - despite a $73 million daily economic hit to the region and 140 percent increases in commute times.
     Workers said late last night they won't return until a deal is done.
     Meanwhile, Brown used his power on Wednesday to avert a second Bay Area transit strike, between the Alameda-Contra Costa County Transit District - known locally as AC Transit - and its unions. Brown can ask a judge to order a cooling-off period to keep AC buses running while negotiations continue after a commission investigates the impact of another strike in the region.