OAKLAND -- With exactly a week left to avoid another BART strike, both sides in the long-running labor dispute reported a bit of progress Thursday but remained far apart.
The movement at the bargaining table came as a new poll showed 77 percent of Bay Area residents who live along the BART corridor oppose a strike, up from 70 percent when the two-month "cooling off" period began. And an overwhelming majority of people favored management's latest offer over the unions' proposal.
The unions late Wednesday submitted their second proposal of the week -- and their third offer of the cool-down period -- while BART management on Thursday afternoon was preparing its first counter-offer in months.
Unions have slightly lowered their proposal on base pay increases to below 20 percent, though their plan would see workers get even higher wages if ridership soars. BART continues to offer raises of about 10 percent over four years.
"Under our proposal, workers will receive additional increases if BART receives additional revenues beyond their budget forecasts," said Antonette Bryant, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union, one of the two large labor groups that represent 2,300 front-line workers.
BART had refused to budge on its offer since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the cooling-off period in August, saying the agency needed unions to make concessions.
While the recent offers aren't enough for a deal, management said it appreciates the unions showing at least some movement.
"The gap is still wide, even with this, but it shows us some willingness to move," said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost. She said the new round of counterproposals "could help jump-start negotiations, but we won't really know until we give it a few days."
Both sides actually agreed on something, even if it was just basic math: For every dollar in pay raises an employee would get, they could contribute 72 cents toward their pensions and still wind up with the same take-home paycheck since pension contributions are taken from pretax wages. But that formula doesn't mean much yet since they can't agree on either how much the pension contributions or pay increases should be.
The unions have threatened again to strike starting on the morning of Oct. 11 if a deal is not reached by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 10, when the cooling-off period ends. The unions went on strike for 4½ days in July and twice had threatened strikes in August delayed by Brown. But the governor has exhausted his legal authority, and no one would be able to step in to avoid another strike now.
While polls over the summer showed most people favoring management, the results were amplified in the new survey commissioned by the pro-business Bay Area Council and local chambers of commerce. Now 50 percent of respondents strongly oppose a strike and 27 percent are somewhat opposed, compared with 44 percent and 26 percent in an August poll.
Surveyors gave summaries of the proposals from both sides, which are now slightly outdated, and 63 percent said unions should accept management's offer. Just 6 percent said BART should accept the unions' proposal, while 26 percent said negotiations should keep going even if it means a strike.
Oakland-based EMC Research surveyed 509 residents in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco counties this week. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.