Cooling-off period ordered by judge to prevent BART strike

SAN FRANCISCO — In a brief but extraordinary weekend hearing, a San Francisco Superior Court judge on Sunday morning ordered a 60-day cooling-off period to prevent a second transit strike.

Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow said that he had no choice but to grant the strike reprieve, which Gov. Jerry Brown requested on Friday afternoon.

"If the court finds that the threatened strike will significantly disrupt transportation services and endanger the public's health, safety or welfare," Karnow said from the bench, "I have to issue the order."

The Bay Area Rapid Transit district and its three biggest unions have been negotiating a new contract for the past several months with no success. A nearly five-day strike in July left BART's 400,000 weekday riders in the lurch.

Brown's move comes after a three-member board that he appointed found that "a strike will cause significant harm to the public's health, safety and welfare."

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Brown held out hope that transit workers and BART management could work out a contract deal before Sunday. If they didn't, Brown said at the time that he would ask the courts to prevent a strike for an additional two months in hopes that the two sides could come to agreement.

"I urge all parties to think of the public and resolve this matter without delay," Brown said in the statement, but if there's no resolution by Sunday, I will seek a 60-day cooling-off period."

Although BART and its biggest unions — SEIU Local 1021, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and AFSCME Local 3993 — bargained until late Saturday night, not much progress was made, and the hearing began at 9 a.m. Sunday.

San Francisco court officials say that in recent memory the courts here have never officially opened on a weekend for a public proceeding.

After seeing an edited version of the necessary paperwork, Karnow said he signed it and the two-month hiatus began. The parties were scheduled to resume negotiating on Sunday.

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