SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Transit workers were voting Tuesday on whether to let their unions call a strike if a new contract deal can't be reached with management.
Negotiations were halted as the two largest unions representing Bay Area Rapid Transit employees held the vote. The results were expected to be announced on Wednesday. The current contract expires Sunday night.
Unions representing train drivers, mechanics, station agents and maintenance workers are fighting efforts by BART to have workers contribute to pensions, pay more for health insurance, and help reduce overtime expenses.
Employees currently pay a flat $92 fee each month for health insurance, no matter the plan or how many people are covered.
BART spokesman Rick Rice said the agency wants to increase that payment, but he offered no details on an amount.
The transit agency said it needs to control costs to help pay for new rail cars and other improvements. The unions contend BART has a $125 million operating surplus, and members deserve some of it for increased ridership and high service reliability rates.
Employees want a 5 percent annual raise over the next three years. Train operators and station agents are currently paid in the low $60,000 range, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Employees average $16,590 a year in overtime pay.
BART has offered a 1 percent raise annually over the next four years. Workers are currently scheduled to receive a 1 percent raise on July 1.
The two sides were optimistic that a deal can be reached, even though the unions filed a lawsuit on Monday against BART seeking an unfair labor practices declaration and claiming the transit agency was not bargaining in good faith.
The union would not have to give the agency notice before calling a strike, but BART's unions have said they would give the public a 72 -hour notice.
About 400,000 people use BART to commute every weekday. In the event of a strike, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission was planning to help increase other transportation options such as buses and ferries.
A strike in 1997 lasted six days.