OAKLAND (KCBS/KPIX 5) -- California Gov. Jerry Brown intervened with an 11th hour order to impose a 7-day inquiry that averted a Bay Area Rapid Transit strike Monday morning, easing the minds of over 400,000 commuters who rely daily on the nation's fifth-largest rail system.
Brown's order late Sunday night named a three-person board of investigators that will conduct a week-long inquiry into the contract dispute between BART management and its two major unions. The board is required to report back to the governor within the seven days, and BART management and its unions are prohibited from any strikes or lockouts while that investigation is in progress.
Depending on the findings of the probe, Brown could then opt to impose a further 60-day cooling off period.
Brown said his order came under a state law that allows him to intervene if a strike would "significantly disrupt public transportation services" and "endanger the public's health, safety, and welfare."
"For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge -- in the strongest terms possible -- the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved," Brown wrote in his order.
The Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, had previously given BART the required 72-hour notice that their members would go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Monday if a deal wasn't reached by then.
BART board president Tom Radulovich had sent a letter to the governor requesting his intervention and a 60-day cooling off period. But Brown, for now, issued an order with considerably less time of a week.
"The formal impartial fact-finding that accompanies the cooling-off period will help clarify the points of difference between the proposals," Radulovich later told reporters at a late night news conference.
Union leaders also talked with reporters after the order was issued, accusing BART negotiators of stalling until only hours remained before the strike would have begun to provide counter proposals on core pay and benefits - which are among the key sticking points in the contract talks.
"Our hope is that the governor's board of investigation will reveal how little time BART management has spent at the bargaining table in the past 30 days, compared with how much time they've spent posturing to the media," said SEIU 1021 president Roxanne Sanchez.
"If the district would come to the table and bargain with us in good faith, none of this would be necessary, the governor would not have to get involved, the public worries would not be necessary," added ATU 1555 president Antonette Bryant.
BART management and the unions negotiated for about 14 hours Saturday and resumed bargaining Sunday with both sides expressing some optimism that an agreement could be reached. But the talks later stalled as the midnight strike deadline loomed, and Brown's order came down around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
If not for the governor's intervention, it would have been the second BART strike in as many months. BART workers walked off the job for four days in early July, before agreeing to extend their contracts until Sunday while negotiations continued for a month.
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