BART, unions reach deal; strike ends

SAN FRANCISCO — BART management and union leaders emerged from negotiations late Monday to announce an end to the four-day regional rail strike that sent hundreds of thousands of commuters scrambling to find alternatives to the 104-mile system.

The strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit's two largest unions stung its weekday ridership of 400,000 more sharply Monday than it had Friday, as residents who had taken a long weekend or worked from home scrambled for buses, ferries and carpools — or sat for hours in gridlocked traffic.

The settlement, announced about 10 p.m., would get some trains running by 6 a.m. and would ramp the system up to full strength for the afternoon commute, said BART General Manager Grace Crunican.

"This offer is more than we wanted to pay, but it's also a new path in terms of relations with our unions," said Crunican, who declined to reveal details before union leaders shared them with membership. "We compromised to get to this place, as did our union members."

Union members must still vote to ratify it and the BART board must approve it. Leadership praised it as a win for workers' rights.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan had joined the bargaining teams in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission offices in her city to urge a prompt end to the strike. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was there too.

"If there's any lesson learned, it's that this can never happen again," Newsom said.

Monday night's unexpected resolution came hours after federal investigators disclosed that an out-of-service train that killed two BART workers on the tracks Saturday was being driven by an "operator trainee."

Christopher Sheppard, 58, of Hayward and Laurence Daniels, 66, of Fair Oaks were struck and killed by a BART train as they inspected a dip in the tracks between Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill.

The tragedy seemed to add a new layer of urgency onto the stalled negotiations.

James Southworth, lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, confirmed in a Monday briefing that one of two "operator trainees" aboard the train was at the controls. BART had been training some managers as operators so they could run skeletal commuter service in the event of a prolonged strike — a practice unions had opposed, calling it unsafe.

Southworth said six people were aboard the train, which was on a maintenance and training run. The operator was informed by radio that the men were on the tracks and he sounded the train's air horn, Southworth said, but he was unable to stop in time. The train was traveling between 60 and 70 miles per hour.

Investigators will conduct a reenactment to study the train's braking system, he added.

"He was aware of people on the tracks," Southworth said of the driver, who was among four employees interviewed for as long as 10 hours Monday.

NTSB investigators were shipping the train's video recordings to Washington, D.C., and planned to continue with interviews Tuesday, he said.

The BART strike is the second to hamper travel and commerce in the region since July, when a 4 1/2-day walkout was brought to a close by the intervention of Gov. Jerry Brown, who later called for a 60-day cooling-off period.

The stop-and-start negotiations between management and its two biggest unions — Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 — began in the spring.

The cooling-off period ended Oct. 10 and was followed by a nail-biting series of strike deadlines that came and went last week. Federal mediators flew in from Washington to press for resolution and by all accounts brought the sides much closer together. But negotiations nevertheless crumbled Thursday, and the strike was called.

The two sides agreed on pension and healthcare contributions and came close on salary. But other issues, which included the length of the workday and the amount of input workers have over changes in procedure, thwarted a deal. Safety concerns over tunnel lighting, track clearing and track signage were also among unresolved issues.

Federal mediator Greg Lim remained in the Bay Area after his colleagues returned home, however, and by Monday afternoon management and union representatives confirmed that negotiations had resumed with his involvement. Both sides said that they were "hopeful" and that the gap between the parties was narrowing.