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Jeff Durham / Staff illustration

The Amalgamated Transit Union seems hell bent on bringing Bay Area commuters, taxpayers and businesses to their knees with threats of simultaneous strikes this week at BART and AC Transit.

Absent quick settlement at BART, Gov. Jerry Brown must stop this abuse by invoking a cooling-off process at AC Transit. These concurrent negotiations must be settled on their individual merits, not under duress of extortion.

BART provides an average 400,000 trips a day, second highest in the Bay Area. AC Transit ranks third, at about 180,000 on a typical weekday. A work stoppage at either would lead to gridlock. A shutdown at both would make Bay Area roadways, especially those in the East Bay, impassable.

This crisis was predictable. As we said previously, BART and AC Transit directors should have never agreed in their last negotiations to contracts expiring at the same time. The same union represents bus drivers and mechanics at AC Transit, and train operators, station agents and train-yard workers at BART.

The claim by ATU's leader at AC Transit that the timing of the two strike threats was coincidental is simply not credible. While BART has been engaged in months of negotiations, AC Transit leaders had been doing the same.

At the bus agency, the two sides had twice reached agreement, only to see workers reject both deals. The latter agreement, turned down on Oct. 1, would have given workers a 9.5 percent pay increase over three years, and allowed them to continue avoiding any contributions to their pensions. For the first time, they would have had to make a small contribution to their health care premiums.

Since the contract rejection, the union sat silent for two weeks. There were no negotiations. Then, suddenly, as BART bargaining was falling apart Monday and a strike there seemed imminent, AC Transit workers announced they, too, would walk off the job.

The governor must intervene. He has the legal authority to invoke a one-time cooling-off process. Regrettably, he played his card with BART back in July, setting up this potential simultaneous shutdown scenario.

Now he must stop the strike clock at AC Transit. The first step would be appointment of an investigatory board that would have seven days to report back, during which time a strike would be prohibited. After receiving the report, the governor could petition a court to call a 60-day cooling off period.

Union leaders at the two transit agencies have overplayed their hands. The governor must restore some sanity to the process.