Let's look at what the job qualifications are for a BART transit operator, i.e. a candidate needs a high school diploma or GED, a valid California driver’s license and three years of experience “interacting with the general public in a variety of ways”. It’s not that becoming a BART driver requires a lot of experience. The trains are automated, so operators drive them only during emergencies, and then only to speeds up to 25 mph. However the BART union makes it impossible to train new transit operators by not allowing any training if a union worker is working. If management wanted to add more, it would have to put them through special training mandated under the union contract signed after the 1979 labor dispute. Operators also must pass a 15-week training course in safety practices. Under the agency’s contract, however, anyone is barred from even taking the course as long as union BART operators are on the job. In other words, the only time BART can begin training replacement operators is when drivers go out on strike. 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 partially as a result of the current union contract. Cleaner, more reliable rides can only be afforded by keeping overall employee compensation the same over the next five years. That would be accomplished by asking workers to chip in more for their health and pension benefits, a goal that BART management prizes so much it's willing to give out small wage bumps so each employee's net take-home pay would stay the same. If employees agree, BART would save money over the long term because employees would foot a bigger share of the rising cost of health care and pensions. "Something has to be done. If we keep kicking the can down the road, then our children pay for it," said Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford. "It's not normal for the private sector. This is a huge benefit that workers have had." While government agencies across California grapple with rising health care and pension costs, BART's problem is exacerbated because employees pay a comparatively smaller share of the cost: $92 a month toward health care and nothing toward pensions. "It seems like the large majority of the public is upset with the unions for being rigid," said Sarah Anzia, assistant professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. She said a lot of people realized that "compared to what I contribute toward my retirement or health insurance, this is nothing." The average worker in BART's largest union, the local Service Employees International Union, earned $77,366 in gross pay and $32,235 worth of benefits in 2012. Their average benefits cost is up about 12 percent since 2010 while gross pay has remained roughly flat since their last contract was signed in 2009. In addition, the BART union has unparalleled benefits not enjoyed by any other transit union in California that allows for example;
• 100% taxpayer-funded defined benefit pensions
• union members work less than 40 hours a week
• union members still get step raises
• union members call in sick or take a vacation day and then work on their day off and get paid overtime
• union members continue to receive the $92/month health insurance even after they leave BART
When one looks closely at the demands that BART unions are placing before the public, which ultimately ends up paying for those unrealistic demands, is it any surprise that the majority of the public does not support the BART unions?
This story contains 850 words.
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