BART trains will almost certainly continue to roll through at least mid-October after Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday announced he would ban rail employees from striking for the next two months.
The governor's decision to request a judge to order a 60-day "cooling-off" period on Sunday if an agreement is not reached by then would avert another rail shutdown, though the delay may simply push the strike to the busier fall commute period. Brown's ruling came the same day his investigative panel issued a report that outlined just how far apart the two sides remain.
"I urge all parties to think of the public and resolve this matter without delay," Brown said in a statement Friday afternoon.
Brown beat BART's unions to the punch, releasing his verdict just hours before the unions were expected to issue a 48-hour notice of a strike Monday morning. The early decision should eliminate the late-night Sunday drama that has twice this summer kept commuters on pins and needles awaiting word of whether trains will run for the morning rush hour.
Still, negotiations were scheduled to continue through Sunday night, and BART said it was willing to move toward a compromise as long as the unions were. Heading into Friday, both sides remained tens of millions of dollars apart on the key issues of pay and benefits. Friday's talks were again characterized by both sides as moving "slowly."
A San Francisco Superior Court room will stage a rare weekend hearing Sunday at 9 a.m. to hear the state's argument for a cool-down, though it is considered routine. Attorney General Kamala Harris' office filed the application seeking the strike delay, saying it would "irreparably injure" Bay Area residents.
Judge Curtis Karnow is expected to issue the strike postponement because the law requires Brown simply to prove that a train stoppage "will significantly disrupt public transportation services and endanger the public's health, safety, or welfare." Previous governors are five-for-five using this strategy, and union lawyers are not even expected to oppose the move.
Although it was no surprise, Brown's decision was a victory for management, which asked the governor for the truce after unions again threatened to strike a week ago.
"It guarantees train service, which is the most important thing for the public," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. Still, "we'll be here all weekend as we try to negotiate an agreement by Sunday evening. BART is prepared to show movement, but we need to make sure there is compromise going in both directions."
The unions representing 2,300 blue-collar workers wanted Brown to stay out of the fight, hoping a strike might persuade management to cave.
"We do not want to put the public in a 60-day cooling-off period. We feel a deal can be made now given the information and the resources that BART has," Antonette Bryant, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union, said Friday. "There's no need to drag this out and hold the public hostage."
Josie Mooney, chief negotiator for the local Service Employees International Union, said the governor's early decision removes the "pressure necessary to arrive at a deal" this weekend.
"We're hoping that in spite of both parties knowing that the governor will seek this injunction potentially on Sunday morning that both parties continue to be motivated to achieve an agreement so that there is no threat of a strike in October," Mooney said.
After exhausting the full two-month delay, no one outside the talks -- not even Brown -- could stop the strike come Oct. 11, during a month when BART's ridership typically peaks.
From 1982 to 2007, governors called for cooling-off periods at least 11 times, including five to prevent BART shutdowns. The only time a strike happened anyway was in 1997, when BART workers staged a six-day walkout after the two-month period ended.
The ruling came five days after Brown issued a seven-day strike delay while he formed a three-member fact-finding panel to investigate the negotiations, a legally required step before the truce can be declared. That move, which staved off a strike last week, set up another Sunday night deadline to avoid a second work stoppage following a 4½-day rail shutdown that began July 1.
In its report, the fact-finding panel -- facing the simple task of concluding whether a BART shutdown would be bad for the Bay Area -- said a rail strike would hurt the Bay Area economy, noting that some transit-dependent riders would be stranded and the region's roads would be jammed, causing more accidents and slowing emergency vehicles.
The panel members could not issue recommendations but outlined each sides' latest stances, which showed, yet again, that a wide gap exists between them.
"The board concludes that a strike will cause significant harm to the public's health, safety, and welfare," the board said in its eight-page report Friday, satisfying the legal requirement to officially declare the strike a problem worth the governor's intervention under an obscure law that covers public transportation labor disputes.
Staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.