The bridge district's general manager, Denis Mulligan, characterized the dispute differently, saying he was "optimistic that we'll be able to amicably resolve all this." He was surprised by the strike vote.
"Progress is being made at the table, and so to scare our customers needlessly is unwarranted," Mulligan said.
Tonisson said the unions, which have been working without a contract since July 1, are asking for a 12 percent wage increase over three years. Mulligan said the district is offering 9 percent. The unions maintain their wage request is needed to keep up with the high cost of living in the Bay Area, and to make up for additional money the district is asking them to pay into their health care premiums.
"This is after three concessionary contracts where the coalition has given back to the district when financial times were harder," Tonisson said. "We're not asking for anything outrageous here."
Workers' salaries range from $40,000 a year for a deckhand to $100,000 annually for a civil engineer, Tonisson said. Mulligan said workers' wages are competitive, and they receive a generous benefits package that's better than comparable positions at other Bay Area public agencies.
"We’re very fortunate that we have very low turnover, which would seem to indicate that our packages are not out of the ballpark with respect to being woefully inadequate," Mulligan said.
Tonisson said a strike date has not been set.
"It really depends what happens at the bargaining table," Tonisson said. "It's important for the public to know that our members don't want to go on strike."
Mulligan said while talk of a strike was premature, the district would do everything it could to notify the public in the event of a walkout.
“A strike would be incredibly unfortunate," Mulligan said. "It would reflect poorly on all of us, myself, our management team as well as our employees, because it would hurt our customers. And we should never take steps that hurt our customers."