US & Canada

Bart strike snarls San Francisco commute

A closed Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Oakland, California on 18 October 2013
Image caption Bay Area Rapid Transit stations in cities and towns across the region were shuttered

A strike by workers of a major San Francisco-area rail transit system has snarled the morning commute for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Overnight negotiations between the labour unions and Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) reached an impasse just hours before the morning rush.

The city bolstered bus and ferry service to meet the demand of more than 400,000 affected commuters, and bridges and highways were clogged.

It is the second Bart strike this year.

Commuters lined up before dawn to catch charter buses into San Francisco, the city at the centre of the 4.3 million-population metropolitan area.

City officials estimated the buses could only transport 6,000 people per day.

Traffic on San Francisco's bridges also appeared heavier than normal.

"I am mad as hell," resident Jurgen Ware told Reuters news agency. "It's a big hassle thanks to Bart."

As she tried to board a charter bus at West Oakland Bart station, Tatiana Marriott, 21, a seamstress, told the Associated Press news agency: "I just want Bart and the unions to figure it out. I just want to get to work."

The two unions involved in the dispute represent nearly 2,400 train operators, station agents, maintenance workers and other staff.

Agreement was reportedly near on Thursday on the key sticking points of pay, healthcare and pension issues, said Roxanne Sanchez, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

But talks broke down just hours later, reportedly over issues including overtime scheduling.

Ms Sanchez said management had rejected a union suggestion to take the remaining issues to arbitration, prompting the walkout.

"Bart management blew up negotiations by insisting that employees sacrifice workplace protections in exchange for economic well-being," Pete Castelli, head of the SEIU Local 1021 labor union, said.

It is the second Bart worker strike in four months.

After a previous strike in July, California Governor Jerry Brown ordered a 60-day cooling-off period, which ended on Sunday.

A federal mediator has been working since then with Bart and the unions.

Bart spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the rail operator had been inundated with calls and emails this week from commuters frustrated they had not been given earlier notice about whether the trains would run.

Image caption Station agents picketed outside an Oakland, California, station
Image caption Traffic backs up at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge tolls as commuters make their way into work

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