Commuter rail workers in the San Francisco Bay Area walked off their jobs on Friday after talks on a new contract broke down over workplace rules, throwing the morning commute into chaos in the traffic-clogged Northern California region.
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The walkout by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers shut down a rail system that carries about 400,000 passengers a day, transporting commuters back and forth between Oakland, San Francisco and outlying suburbs.
"I am mad as hell. It's a big hassle thanks to BART," said Jurgen Ware, who lives in the Bay Area suburb of Dublin and had to carpool to his job in San Francisco. He also blamed rail workers, saying they "have a stranglehold on the city."
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The walkout was the second this year. BART workers went on strike for four and a half days in July, forcing some people to miss work and others to endure commutes of three hours or more.
For months BART management and employee unions have been at loggerheads over pay and benefits for more than 2,000 train drivers and other union workers who are demanding large pay raises, in part to offset being asked to contribute to their pensions and pay more for healthcare.
Under the terms of the last contract offer made public, BART said it offered a 12-percent pay raise over four years to workers, who management says earn on average $79,000 a year plus benefits. The unions put the average worker's salary at $64,000.
Union leaders have justified their demands for higher pay in part by pointing out that San Francisco and nearby Oakland are among the 10 most expensive U.S. cities in which to live.
After negotiating late every day this week, the union said the sides had finally reached an overall understanding on pay and benefits, but were at odds over workplace rules that the unions said BART had proposed at the last minute.
The proposed rules included allowing same-day schedule changes, eliminating marginal pay increases for certain senior custodial staff and scrapping past practices that included guidelines for how an injured worker would be integrated back onto the job, Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro told Reuters.
Unions announced the strike and a federal mediator, who had been involved in the negotiations, said he was ending efforts at conciliation because there was no more he could do.