OAKLAND -- AC Transit bus drivers threatened a strike earlier this month because of deep unhappiness with violence on buses, lack of time for meals and restroom breaks, and proposed requirements to have them begin paying some of their medical insurance premiums, union leaders told a state advisory board Monday.

The three-member board held a hearing collecting facts to help Gov. Jerry Brown decide by the end of Wednesday whether to extend a temporary AC Transit strike ban by 60 days. The governor last week banned the strike for seven days after workers threatened to walk out.

AC Transit managers joined advocates for schoolchildren, social service clients, the blind, the disabled and the poor in testifying Monday that a bus strike would cause severe disruption for riders who make 181,000 trips a day in parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

"Keeping the buses moving is essential," said Scott Blanks, of Oakland, who is blind and works for nonprofit services for the blind. "This is a matter of life and death."

Many people who don't have cars rely on AC Transit to get to medical and social service appointments, school and jobs, bus system managers told the board.

Fifty-one percent of AC Transit riders don't have a driver's license; 40 percent live in households with no car and 63 percent of riders are classified as low-income, bus system executives testified.

AC Transit asked the governor for the 60-day cooling off period to try to reach a contract agreement with some 1,640 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which has twice rejected tentative accords reached between labor and management negotiators.

"We need time to reach a resolution," said David Armijo, the AC Transit general manager.

AC Transit bus drivers earn an average of $54,000 annually in base pay. This does not count overtime pay.

The district offered workers a 9.5 percent pay increase over three years, and a continuation of not having to pay anything toward their pensions. Under the deal, workers would have started paying toward their health insurance.

Workers would have paid $70 per month for Kaiser family coverage in the first year, $140 per month in the second year and $170 per month in the third.

But workers voted that down in part because the new health insurance payments would have been a burden to lower paid employers, and many drivers were upset with worker safety and conditions, union attorney Margot Rosenberg said. "I think both sides were surprised by the depth of workers' dissatisfaction."

She said the lack of time for meals and restroom breaks contributes to driver health problems that are also related to sitting long periods and not being able to get up and stretch.

Rosenberg said union and management representatives have reached some agreement on bathroom break procedures, but still have yet to reach any accord on adequate meal time. She also said workers are concerned about bus driver and passenger safety because of shootings and attacks on buses, including several in the last month.

The three-hour hearing Monday drew about 40 people. Speakers on both sides had many conciliatory words for the other side.

The three-member hearing panel appointed by the governor includes Peter Southworth, the deputy secretary and general counsel of the California State Transportation Agency; Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council; and Micki Callahan, director of human resources for the city and county of San Francisco.

Denis Cuff covers transportation; reach him at 925-943-8267.