OAKLAND -- This is going to sound familiar: BART unions late Tuesday said they would keep service running Wednesday while they continued to talk, another temporary reprieve for frustrated commuters suffering from deadline fatigue.
What's more, it seemed likely that Gov. Jerry Brown would step in to keep AC Transit buses rolling, at least for a while.
Before the BART talks restarted early Tuesday afternoon, union leaders had hinted they might halt service Wednesday without a deal. After 10 p.m., however, unions called off their strike threat.
"There will be train service operating all day" Wednesday, federal mediator George Cohen said. He added that both sides had made progress Tuesday but declined to comment further.
Management and union leaders representing 2,300 line-level employees ended another lengthy bargaining session around 12:30 a.m. and were scheduled to restart negotiations at 10 a.m. Wednesday. It was not clear whether the unions would threaten to strike on Thursday or later.
"The odds are very strong that they will keep talking past midnight" into Wednesday morning, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Tuesday evening outside a Caltrans office in downtown Oakland where the talks are being held. "A lot of progress has been made, but there still is a lot to be worked out."
The two sides were fighting over pay raises and other issues with the assistance of the federal government's top mediator, Cohen, who has overseen labor disputes at the NBA, NFL and FAA and joined the BART talks Sunday.
"We believe that the mediator is making a difference in negotiations," the local Amalgamated Transit Union said in a statement late Tuesday night.
A gag order was still in place but BART, after submitting its final offer Sunday, was considering a counterproposal offered by unions Monday.
"I know the riding public would like to know what's going on and we're working very hard so that we can get a deal done," said Josie Mooney, the SEIU's chief negotiator.
After both sides missed their deadline Monday night, they talked until 5:30 a.m. In the wee hours, unions agreed to keep train service intact for at least all day Tuesday.
Tuesday night's deadline was the fourth late-night showdown in less than a week and the seventh in the past 3½ months. Commuters were showing signs of exhaustion.
Andrew Moore, who lives in Antioch and takes BART to his job in San Francisco, said it was "ridiculous" that commuters have to wait until the middle of the night before knowing if there will be a strike.
"A lot of people stayed up (late) and didn't know" trains would be running, Moore said as he waited for a Tri Delta Transit express bus to the Pittsburg-Bay Point BART station. "They should have a deadline earlier in the day so people can plan."
Arun Mudgil, another Antioch-to-San Francisco BART commuter, stayed up until 2 a.m. Tuesday before learning that BART would be running: "I'm frustrated," he said.
Many people are already giving up. Following the last three late-night strike deadlines, about 23,400 fewer people than usual rode BART round trip from Friday through Tuesday morning. That's a drop of about 5 percent. BART lost about $168,000 in fare revenue as a result.
Also weary were law students Ethan Niedermeyer, 26, and John Rosenthal, 24: "This is very inconvenient," said Niedermeyer, a San Francisco resident who takes BART to work in Oakland. "I'm not happy about this. I'd love to be making that kind of money," he said, referring to BART workers' average gross pay of $76,500, the highest among California transit agencies.
But Fatima Dembele, 25, an employee at a downtown Oakland bakery, said they have a lot of customers that work at BART and opinions there were split.
"We know them by name, we know their families," Dembele said. "But at the same time a lot of our customers are BART riders. We want them to be able to get to work and not have to worry about driving or getting on the bus."
BART was sympathetic to commuters.
"The public deserves to know before midnight if the trains will run next morning," Trost said.
Unions had already delayed strike decisions on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights. The drama over the last week followed a 4½-day walkout in July and two strikes that were averted when Brown stepped in during August.
AC Transit cooling-off?
Meanwhile, AC Transit belatedly revealed Tuesday that it had asked Brown for a 60-day cooling-off period to delay a strike threatened by bus drivers for Thursday.
The bus line's board of directors had sent the request a week prior, on Oct. 8, but waited to announce it until Tuesday, a day after union workers formally issued a 72-hour strike notice. That had left 100,000 people who ride the bus line round trip each day in the dark for 24 hours while AC Transit had declined to comment.
Brown's office was still reviewing the request Tuesday. A cooling-off would begin with a weeklong strike ban while Brown appoints a panel to investigate the talks, and then a judge could bar a shutdown for two more months. That process is considered routine.
More than 1,600 union members twice voted down tentative agreements this year, as management and workers continue to fight over pay increases, health care contributions and other issues.
No negotiations have taken place in the past three weeks but the agency is "ready and willing" to return to the table, AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said Tuesday.
"It's certainly not a good time for" a strike, Johnson said. "If BART is out and we are as well, it would be catastrophic."
Staff writers Natalie Neysa Alund, Denis Cuff, Matthias Gafni, Eve Mitchell and Gary Peterson contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.