Cool-Off Ordered to Avert Second Transit Strike

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A second Bay Area Rapid Transit strike has been averted until at least October, after a California judge ordered a 60-day cooling-off period so negotiations can continue.
     San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow made the order at the request of Gov. Jerry Brown after a rare Sunday hearing. Karnow’s ruling is considered a formality, since the state law that allows for a strike delay is nearly the equivalent of an executive order and requires a judge only to declare that a strike would cause public harm.
     The order comes a week after Brown appointed a commission to look into why unions and the transit district – known locally as BART – have not budged in their demands despite months of talks. Unions staged a four-day walkout in late June before agreeing to another month of negotiations, which expired Aug. 5.
     Train drivers, station agents and other workers have demanded a 4.5 percent wage increase for each of the next three years, in addition to a 2.2 percent cost of living adjustment. BART offered an 8 percent increase spread over four years while asking workers to contribute more to their health insurance plans.
     Brown’s eleventh hour commission issued its report Friday, noting that the parties are “between $56 and $62 million apart on the overall economic package over a 3-year period.” The group also said in its report that a BART strike costs the Bay Area $73 million per day in gross domestic product losses.
     Additionally, the four-day strike last month caused normally 30-minute commutes to take three hours. In communities where BART is the only transit alternative, driving commute times rose 140 percent, according to the report. A prolonged strike would cause both an increase in traffic accidents and emergency response times because of the gridlock.
     “The board concludes that a strike will cause significant harm to the public’s health, safety and welfare,” the commission concluded.
     Unions said they will strike Oct. 11 if a deal is not reached. State law only allows for one cooling-off period, and has been used to avert a BART strike five times since 1988.
     In four of those cases, BART and its unions reached agreements before the 60-day grace period expired.
     The BART system boasts 374,000 weekday riders and is the fifth busiest heavy-rail transit system in the United States.

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