SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Drivers, dispatchers and other workers for a San Francisco Bay Area bus system reached a tentative agreement with their employer late Tuesday, avoiding a strike that threatened to affect hundreds of thousands of commuters, union officials said.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 and the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District struck the deal shortly before midnight, when the union had vowed to go on strike. It gives about 1,800 workers a 9.5 percent raise over the course of the three-year deal, with employees contributing to their medical benefits.
"This agreement protects workers, helps riders, and keep service running," said Yvonne Williams, president of ATU Local 192.
The deal still has to be ratified by the rank-and-file later this month.
"Obviously we're extremely gratified that we could to this point without a disruption in service," said AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson. "It's a credit to both sides that we were able to negotiate without a lot of grandstanding and that certainly helped in our effort to get a contract that both sides can live with."
The bus system serves about 180,000 passengers each weekday in the San Francisco's East Bay region. AC Transit drivers are paid an average salary of $55,000 a year, Johnson said.
On Wednesday, a special board is scheduled to hear testimony about a separate labor dispute involving Bay Area Rapid Transit that resulted in a 4 1/2-day strike last month and is threatening another one that could strand many of BART's estimated 400,000 daily riders.
The hearing in Oakland was called after Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday ordered an investigation into the long and difficult BART talks, averting a strike for Monday morning's commute.
Using documents and testimony collected at Wednesday's hearing, the board investigating BART's labor dispute is expected to report its findings to the governor no later than Sunday night, said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown. He said the hearing will likely include presentations from both sides, questions from the three board members, and public comment.
The report will explain BART and the unions' positions but will not find fault or issue a recommendation. The governor could then petition a court to call a 60-day cooling-off period, Westrup said.
BART spokesman Rick Rice said Tuesday that he expects the governor to make a decision "very, very quickly" as the parties continue to squabble over wages, pension and employees' health care contribution.
Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, one of two unions in talks with BART, said Tuesday they are disappointed that there is such a hearing.
"This could've and should've been resolved more than a month ago on June 30," Bryant said. "We should not have gone to a 30-day extension and then another seven days. (BART) should've settled it."
Rice said the parties are discussing returning to the bargaining table Thursday, however, and may continue talking through the weekend, if necessary.
"If we can reach an agreement before then, there won't be a need for the governor's recommendation," Rice said.
Employees with BART's two largest labor unions average about $71,000 in base salary and $11,000 in overtime annually. They pay nothing toward their pensions and a $92-a-month flat fee for health insurance, according to BART.
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