No settlement in sight with BART 'cooling off' period ending in 3 weeks | September 20, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - September 20, 2013

No settlement in sight with BART 'cooling off' period ending in 3 weeks

In these final days of Gov. Jerry Brown's "cooling off" period that temporarily halted the BART transit strike on Aug. 11, there's still not much to cheer about other than both BART management and unions are talking occasionally. BART spokesman Rick Rice's email messages to city leaders last Monday says it all: the most recent union proposal wasn't "game-changing." The unions went from a 5% per year wage increase demand with a pension swap to 4.5% per year increases with a pension swap that still amounts to 17% over the next three years. BART is demanding a four-year contract and if the unions' new proposal is extrapolated over that period, it amounts to a 21.5% increase. BART's current offer, still astounding by any private sector comparison, is for a 10% pay increase over the next four years.

The demands by BART's unions for a 21% raise over three years is simply unaffordable for BART and unreasonable by any measure. Most workers in the private sector have had scant raises, if any, since the recession began several years ago and few companies are budgeting for significant pay increases now. Benefit plans in both the private and public sectors have been trimmed as well, including generous lifetime benefits once offered to state and municipal employees.

BART transit workers are among the highest paid in the industry. They do not contribute to their pension. BART workers pay approximately 5% of their annual healthcare premium, or just $92 a month no matter how many dependents they have. State workers contribute 20%.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said the transit agency has moved $180 million from its initial offer to the unions last April 1. That offer stands and there's no money to add more, she insists. She and her management team recognize that the days of bailouts from state and federal sources are over; the unions should recognize this, too. The Bay Area Rapid Transit system is now 40 years old. It moves about 400,000 people daily through 26 cities, including to and from Pleasanton.

BART's "final" offer to its union employees of a 10% wage increase is too high to start with and certainly much more than the riders they serve can expect in the same four-year period ahead. The proposed benefit package also is overly generous, topping not only those working in the private sector but also those employed by state, regional, county and local governments, including Pleasanton's, who have agreed to pay more of their benefit costs.

BART management says it's reached the end of the road in negotiations. The unions must come to terms with what their employer and riders can afford and offer. If not, with the cooling off period ending Oct. 11, it may be time to start making plans to carpool, change the hours you're needed at your jobs across the Bay or make arrangements to work at home. Let's hope that in three weeks, there's a settlement in place.