OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Trains in the San Francisco Bay Area were running again Tuesday after a tentative deal capped six months of contentious labor negotiations and two strikes that disrupted hundreds of thousands of daily commutes.
Limited Bay Area Rapid Transit train service began again around 6 a.m., two hours later than BART had said it would and not in time to prevent many commuters from turning to alternative transportation.
BART officials hoped trains would be running at full service in time for the afternoon commute. BART is the nation's fifth-largest rail system, with an average weekday ridership of 400,000. Morning traffic at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza was snarled, and BART stations were emptier than normal, with a few people dotting platforms as news spread that the strike had ended.
Meshe Harris, 22, of Hayward had been watching the labor dispute closely, hoping it would end quickly. She had no car and somewhere important to be early Tuesday. "I was really excited because I have to go to Daly City for an interview," Harris said while waiting for a train at the Montgomery Street station in San Francisco. "So I was hoping, thank God, that it was going to be running soon."
The settlement was reached just two days after two track workers were killed in a BART train accident in Walnut Creek. Federal investigators said the train was run by a BART employee who was being trained.
Union officials said they had warned that training managers to operate trains during a walkout could be dangerous. Amalgamated Transit Union international president Larry Hanley said he wants a criminal investigation into the deaths.
"I'm not saying they intended to kill," Hanley said of the train's operators. "But what I am saying is there was a callous and reckless disregard for the safety of people." BART officials said employees were trickling into work as they heard about the settlement that ended the four-day strike.
The tentative deal was announced by BART and union officials on Monday night. It still requires approval from union members and from BART's board of directors. It contains the same economic package as a deal that nearly came together before workers went on strike last week, said Hanley, whose union represents BART train drivers and station agents.
BART and its workers had been closing in on an agreement on the typically contentious issues of wages and benefits before the deal fell apart Friday over workplace rules. BART demanded changes to the way schedules are made and when overtime is paid. The agency also wanted to move from paper to electronic record keeping.
BART backed off on Monday from most of those issues and settled on minor changes that would allow the introduction of new technology, according to Hanley. He wouldn't be more specific, but one change BART was pushing for was having paystubs distributed electronically instead of by hand.
A vote by the rank-and-file on the tentative deal could come on Oct. 28 at the earliest, Hanley said. BART general manager Grace Crunican said on Monday night there would be no immediate announcements on the details, as union leaders explained the agreement to their members.
However, she said it marked a compromise. "This deal is more than we wanted to pay," she said. The talks between BART and its two largest unions dragged on for six months — a period that saw two chaotic dayslong strikes, including one in July, contentious negotiations and frazzled commuters wondering if they would wake up to find the trains running or not.
Thanawala and Associated Press reporter Jason Dearen reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Haven Daley and Terence Chea in Walnut Creek, Calif., contributed to this report.