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California governor imposes 60-day ban on bus driver strike

California Governor Jerry Brown (C) speaks during ceremonies before signing AB60 into law in Los Angeles October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Prous
California Governor Jerry Brown (C) speaks during ceremonies before signing AB60 into law in Los Angeles October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Prous

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown intervened on Wednesday to block 1,800 San Francisco-area bus drivers and other workers from walking off their jobs just as the traffic-clogged region is recovering from a massive commuter rail strike.

At Brown's request, the Alameda County Superior Court imposed a 60-day cooling-off period on Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Agency (AC Transit) workers to stop a walkout planned for early Thursday, Brown's office said on Wednesday.

The order comes the same week as unions for the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency, the fifth busiest rapid transit system in the nation, ended a four-day labor contract strike that jammed roadways and added hours to morning commute times.

"Another strike in the Bay Area is the last thing we need," Brown said in a statement on Tuesday. "I urge the parties to resolve their differences, keeping the bus-riding public in mind."

AC Transit is California's fifth-largest public bus system, serving 181,000 daily riders in Alameda and Contra Costa counties and the eastern part of San Francisco.

"We're very grateful that we'll have this extra time," AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said. "We do believe that we'll be able to come to a resolution."

Members of the agency's lone union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, has rejected two offers from AC Transit management since contract negotiations began in March.

ATU Local 192 president Yvonne Williams said on Wednesday that the union also hoped to reach a deal by late December. "We'll do our best to work with the district to get a tentative agreement that our members can ratify," Williams said.

Management last proposed a 9.5 percent wage hike over three years and has asked workers to begin to pay towards their monthly healthcare premiums, starting at flat monthly rate of $30 to $113, depending on the plan, and rising to between $70 and $283 in the third year of the contract, both sides said.

The union has asked for a higher raise to offset the increased healthcare costs, Williams said.

After failing to reach an agreement on wages and other contract terms that would be ratified by its members, the ATU issued a 72-hour strike notice on October 14. Brown, a Democrat, responded by obtaining a week-long injunction that began the process to impose a two-month cooling-off period.

A panel appointed by the governor to investigate AC Transit labor negotiations released a report on Monday that said a strike would cause "significant disruption in public transportation services and significant harm to the public's health, safety, and welfare."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)

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