Thanks to excellent reporting by the Bay Area News Group in its Sunday editions you can see just how richly compensated BART employees are as they continue locked in a labor dispute and could issue a 72-hour alert of a strike today.
Past management and the elected officials responsible for the taxpayers’ interests have kowtowed to the unions for way too long. BART employees represented in the labor dispute hold positions that require little more than a high school degree yet they are the highest compensated transportation workers in the state and their compensation soars above other public agencies in the state.
BART employees pull down more than $20,000 more than their peers in the Los Angeles, Orange County and Sacramento transportation agencies and more than $15,000 more than AC Transit.
Even more interesting is how much the agency tops other large public organizations. BART gross compensation averages $83,000 while schools districts are less than half of that at $32-35k.
Toss in that school district employees always have paid their 8 percent share of their pension costs—BART employees contribute nothing and pay only $92 a month for family health insurance. Can you say “sweet?”
In reporting this week, BART officials said they have now offered 8 percent over four years regardless of economic conditions. In exchange, they want employees to pay 5 percent of their pension costs (currently they pay nothing) and gradually move from paying a flat $92 for health care to 10 percent of the actual costs. The flat rate amounts to about 5 percent that would about double over four years to $184 or more, given the rate of increase in health care costs. Health care benefits and pensions costs are driving public agencies toward bankruptcy.
In addition, BART needs to replace most of its rolling stock and has precious little money. In contrast to private enterprise that would save money for capital improvements, BART needs to do all it can to pay cash out of pocket because there’s no routine reserve for capital equipment replacement reserve. The options typically are begging for federal money or further raising fares. Given the tone in Congress and the train wreck of a federal budget spending (borrowing 40 cents on every dollar), there’s little chance of seeing that happen.
BART management and the board should consider the approach President Ronald Reagan took when the air traffic controllers walked off the job. If the workers decide to go out, hire permanent replacements. If the air traffic control system—life and death—can survive that step, surely an agency with automated trains can do the same if the recalcitrant union will not wake up to reality.
There are plenty of examples of public employee unions being reasonable. Look no farther than the Pleasanton city employees who have resumed paying their appropriate share of their pension contributions.