By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Commuters in the San Francisco area endured a third day of gridlock on Wednesday, as rail workers resumed negotiations to raise their pay and end their first strike in more than 15 years.
The strike by 2,400 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)system workers, which began on Monday, came after acrimonious discussions over wages and benefits broke down hours before labor agreements expired late on Sunday. Each side blamed the other for abandoning talks to end the strike.
The two largest unions in the strike resumed negotiations with BART management Tuesday, which continued into the early hours of Wednesday. They plan to return to the table Wednesday afternoon, said Cecille Isidro, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1021, and Antonette Bryant, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555.
"Talks are ongoing. We're scheduled to meet again at 1:00 p.m. today. We're working really hard to come to an agreement," Bryant said.
BART serves about 400,000 riders daily. Many rely on it to travel to jobs across the region, with busy routes into San Francisco from communities on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
BART unions are demanding significant pay rises, while management has sought increased pension and healthcare contributions. Union negotiators say safety protocols have also been an issue.
Late on Tuesday, a small union representing around 200 BART workers reached a tentative deal, a BART spokesman told Reuters.
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute estimated that the strike is costing the San Francisco Bay Area $73 million a day in lost worker productivity.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)