OAKLAND -- Gov. Jerry Brown has stepped in to avert an AC Transit strike set for Thursday, as East Bay bus riders will likely be able to breathe easy knowing their service will run through at least late December.
As he did with the BART talks in August, Brown declared a seven-day AC Transit strike delay while a three-member panel investigates the talks. If no agreement is reached within the next week, Brown could ask a judge to ban AC Transit shutdowns for another two months.
Brown late Wednesday sent a letter to the bus line's management and its largest union saying he invoke a law that allows him to delay a transit strike for up to 67 days.
"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.
The 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 union to reach a deal.
AC Transit, which carries about 100,000 people roundtrip each day and is the third-largest transit agency in the Bay Area, has not had a strike in 36 years. It carried the bulk of the displaced BART riders during the rail strike in July and was expected to provide significant back-up service if BART workers walk off the job again this month.
AC Transit's Board of Directors was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon. Then, management and union leaders were set to resume negotiations for the first time since Sept. 25, when more than 1,600 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.