By Tim Hunt
BART labor peace comes at a steep priceUploaded: Apr 19, 2016
BART has been in way too many headlines in the last year.
The latest two came last week when management announced it has negotiated a four-year contract extension with its workers. Riders were no doubt relieved to learn that they would not face more disruptive strikes such as they did twice in 2013, but those paying attention to the finances had to shrug their shoulders.
Workers will receive a 10.5 percent raise over the four years of the contract, assuming it is approved by both sides. While that’s modest compared with the hefty raises that were extracted during the 2013 strikes, they also continue BART’s pattern of richly compensating workers (for whom the basic job requirement is just a high school degree) without regard to the effect on fares or the capital improvement program.
Getting the labor deal done was critical to the board and management because they are planning to put a $3.5 billion bond issue before voters in November to fund overdue improvements to the system. BART has functioned with its collective head-in-the-sand when it comes to building a reserve fund for capital improvements—it has just spent and spent without any regard to the effective life of the system.
The new labor deal did nothing to address the long-term costs of employees when it comes to health care costs to say nothing of pension costs.
Shortly after the labor deal was announced came the proclamation that system faced a $477 million deficit over the next decade—including $77 million from the labor agreement. And somehow, BART General Manager Grace Crunican was comfortable stating that fares will not go up because of the agreement. Really?
BART is the transportation backbone for the East Bay and is carrying far more riders than could have been imagined as the Bay Area economy continues to produce new jobs and attract more people to the area. Reliability has become worrisome as the system has aged—witness the electrical surges that crippled many trains running on the Pittsburg line.
It needs major capital improvements because, as the two 2013 strikes demonstrated, the area comes to a halt without the trains running. Meeting that challenge will take quality leadership from both senior management and the board—both of which have been lacking.
For instance, directors have decreed they want BART police to be “seat monitors” and cite people who take two seats on trains. That’s the best use for the officers—policing seat hogs? Seems like riders could handle that one themselves.