OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- They've had 59 days for heated strike talks to chill, but the two sides in a contentious Northern California rapid transit labor dispute had yet to reach a deal as the final hours of the 60-day state-mandated cooling-off period ticked away Thursday.
If the clock strikes midnight with no agreement, Bay Area Rapid Transit workers could walk off the job — and thousands of commuters could be left stranded for the second time in three months.
But a bit of a setback occurred Wednesday as leaders of the two unions representing BART employees — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, thought they had a deal with BART management but said it was taken off the table.
"We thought we were really close and they totally yanked it off the table," ATU president Antonette Bryant said.
But BART management said the unions are mischaracterizing the situation and that it was miscommunication by mediators that led to confusion over a proposal made on Tuesday.
"It's not the end of the world. We'll be back at the table (on Thursday)," BART spokesman Jim Allison said Wednesday.
The parties have reached agreement on pension contributions, but were still at odds over compensation, health care and safety.
The unions want a raise of nearly 12 percent over three years while BART has proposed a 10 percent increase over four years.
On Monday, union leaders declined to give a customary 72 hours' notice this week that they'd be striking once the state-mandated 60-day cooling off period expires. The unions said they didn't provide the three-day notice because they wanted to leave every possible option open for a resolution, but the lack of notice does nothing to stop workers from a walk-off starting Friday.
BART leaders said they're working equally hard toward a settlement.
"BART negotiators are ready to meet with their union partners (Thursday) and are ready and willing to work as long as necessary to keep the trains running," Allison said in a written statement late Wednesday night.
BART workers walked off the job for four-and-a-half days in July, leading to jammed bridges and crowded buses throughout the San Francisco Bay Area before Gov. Jerry Brown mandated the 60-day cooling-off period.
During the current talks, BART officials unveiled a $21 million contingency plan to give commuters more options, including free charter buses, extra car pool lanes and even limited train service run by managers.
An average of about 200,000 riders takes BART roundtrip on a weekday.