California Gov. Jerry Brown intervened late Sunday to temporarily delay a looming public transit strike that would have threatened the morning commutes of hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents.
Union workers have been in a contract dispute with Bay Area Rapid Transit officials and announced on Thursday that they would begin a strike over what they called "unfair labor practices." Within two hours of a midnight Sunday deadline, Brown issued an order calling for a board to investigate the disagreement over the next seven days, effectively putting an end to the strike.
California law allows the state to intervene if a strike will disrupt public transportation services and endanger public health.
"For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge – in the strongest terms possible – the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved," Brown said in the order.
BART workers have been in negotiations with management for months, taking issue with wage cuts and safety issues.
"The BART system is aging, and needs considerable reinvestment to meet the mobility needs of the Bay Area while state and federal support for transit dwindle," said BART Board President Tom Radulovich, in a letter to Brown. "Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining benefits continues to grow faster than our revenues. Our labor agreements must reflect these financial realities."
A previous strike that lasted more than four days in July caused heavy traffic delays on the Bay Bridge, and passengers were forced to use alternative transportation services such as buses or ferries that carry commuters between San Francisco and the East Bay. The rail system carries nearly 400,000 commuters each day.
San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee praised Brown's action and said he hoped the unions and BART officials would soon come to an agreement.
"I applaud Gov. Brown for his decisive action so that the people of the Bay Area will not endure a debilitating BART strike on Monday," Lee said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Union representatives have said BART management has not made a good faith effort to bargain with the unions and have instead spent that time "posturing" to the media.
"In just the final two days before the expiration of our contract, our bargaining team waited for 22 hours for BART management negotiators to counter our proposals on core issues of pay and benefits," said Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU 1021, one of the unions that represents BART workers. "Our hope is that the Governor's Board can show the public how BART has manipulated the process and continued to bargain in bad faith."
But Radulovich denied that BART officials were purposely making negotiations difficult and said appealing to Brown was "the only option to keep the trains rolling," the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"BART labor negotiations are always contentious," Radulovich said. "But it gets frustrating to have the best wage increases and benefits in the transit industry and be told we're union busting."