The state has dispatched an "unprecedented" fourth mediator to assist with negotiations between BART management and union leaders, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said today.
However Johnson said in a news briefing that the second day of state-mediated talks between the groups has not produced much movement.
"We have a long ways to go," he said. "We're very far apart."
On Friday, three state mediators arrived to assist with negotiations, just days before the transit agency's contract with 2,800 union employees expires at midnight on Tuesday. BART is facing a projected $250 million budget deficit over the next four years and is asking unions for $100 million in concessions, including paying a larger share of health care and other benefits.
Only one mediator was present during the last round of contract negotiations four years ago, Johnson said. "It's unprecedented to have four mediators doing bargaining."
According to Johnson, the unions are still requesting a 3 percent pay raise over the next two years. Despite his less-than-optimistic description of current talks, Johnson said BART is still hopeful they can reach an agreement before midnight Tuesday.
Members of BART's three largest unions, AFSCME Local 3993, Local 1555 of the Amalgamated Transit Union and Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if leadership can't reach a contract agreement by then.
The vote authorizes union leadership to call for one if they deem it necessary. According to the terms of negotiations, workers must give at least 72 hours notice if they plan to strike. If unions decide to begin a strike Wednesday morning, as soon as their contract expires, they had to give notice last night. No word of such a notice has been issued yet today.
A BART strike would create a severe hardship for commuters across the Bay Area. BART trains carry about 360,000 passengers each weekday. Other area transit agencies, including SamTrans and Caltrain, have developed contingency transportation plans in the event of a strike.
Carlos Rivera of SEIU Local 1021 said, "We feel really hopeful that mediators will get us through this stalemate." Rivera said at this point union leadership has no specific plans to strike.
Johnson declined to discuss any such plans BART may have, saying mediators have only begin working with both sides. He praised BART's workers, but said fiscal realities make raises impossible.
"Let's get through the next few days and see where they go," he said. "This is not about the employees, it's about the economy."
The contract talks are continuing at a building at 2201 Broadway in downtown Oakland. BART workers have launched a Web site, www.runbartrun.org, to share updates from their perspective on negotiations and a possible strike. It also features a Twitter account that will let people know if they do decide to strike.