OAKLAND -- Another day, another BART strike delayed: Union leaders said late Wednesday that trains would keep running Thursday but that negotiations had once again failed to seal a deal.
Gov. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, stepped in to avert an AC Transit strike that had been set for Thursday. As he did with the BART talks in August, Brown declared a seven-day bus strike delay and could later use his powers to postpone any AC Transit shutdowns for another two months.
For BART, Thursday marks 200 days since negotiations opened, another frustrating milestone for Bay Area commuters. Even Congress -- yes, the Congress with a 5 percent approval rating -- put aside its differences and reached a deal Wednesday to reopen the federal government.
BART and its unions, however, were back at it all day Wednesday. For the fifth time in the past week, they declared late at night that trains would operate the following day, making the announcement this time at 10:30 p.m. -- or a half hour later than union leaders had promised.
It was not immediately clear whether unions would renew their strike threat for Friday.
"For the good of the public interest, trains will be running for the day" Thursday, federal mediator George Cohen said in a brief statement. Management and unions did not attend the announcement.
Earlier, Josie Mooney, chief negotiator for the local Service Employees International Union, said unions sympathized with the uncertainty riders feel every evening but that they must keep a strike threat on the table to ensure BART management negotiates fairly.
"We have to put some pressure on them," she said.
A gag order remained in effect and it wasn't clear how talks were going, though both sides continued to at least sound optimistic.
"Like I say every morning, I feel good," Antonette Bryant, president of the local Amalgamated Transit Union, said as she walked into the downtown Oakland Caltrans building where talks are being held. "The unions are trying to get a deal done. We're not trying to disrupt service."
The optimism was not exactly spilling over to riders. Since the strike threats began Thursday night, BART has lost more than 7 percent of its expected rider count, causing the rail line to miss out on about $315,000 in fare revenue. Another $200,000 a day is going down the drain so BART can reserve shuttle buses that would run back-up service during a strike.
"I just stopped caring," said law student Angelo Villarreal, 24, of Oakland, who has stopped monitoring late-night news to see whether he can take the train to school the next morning.
But Ginny Sanderson said she still checks her e-mail in the middle of the night to see if the trains will be running.
"I understand from a negotiating standpoint why (the unions) are doing that but I think they are frustrating their riders," she said before catching a train at the Pittsburg-Bay Point station for her job in San Francisco.
Rosemary Mucklow, 81, of Berkeley, works in downtown Oakland as the director emeritus for the North American Meat Association and called the situation "terrible" and "a travesty."
"These people think they can hold us hostage," she said. "For both the people who ride the bus and BART it's really essential for them to get their paychecks."
AC Transit strike off
Meanwhile, Brown sent a letter to AC Transit management and its largest union late Wednesday saying he would invoke a law that allows him to delay transit strikes for up to 67 days.
First, Brown will form a panel to investigate the talks during the next seven days. Then, he could petition a judge to declare a 60-day cooling-off period. In the meantime, all AC Transit strikes would be barred.
Union workers had issued a 72-hour notice to strike starting Thursday morning, but AC Transit had asked Brown for the cooling-off period.
The cooling-off helped avert a BART strike in August but it was not enough time for the rail line and its unions to reach a deal.
"We are very relieved, especially for the 30,000 school children we carry that would have had a very difficult time finding an alternative way to get to school," said AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson, adding that he hoped the delay would buy negotiators enough time to reach a contract agreement.
AC Transit management and union leaders were set to resume negotiations Wednesday afternoon for the first time since Sept. 25, when more than 1,600 bus drivers and other union members voted down their second tentative agreement of the past few months.
In the last deal rejected by bus drivers, mechanics and other workers, union employees would have received a 9.5 percent pay increase over three years while the transit district would have continued to pick up all employee pension costs. But for the first time, workers would have started paying a portion of their health insurance premiums.
Union leaders have said their medical costs would be too high and that management's offer would not offset the concessions workers made in the last contract.
Staff writers Natalie Neysa Alund, Denis Cuff, Matthias Gafni, Eve Mitchell, and Paul Rosynsky contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.