Talks appear to continue to stagnate between management and unions representing BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) workers, increasing the potential for a strike. California sent state mediators – four, an unprecedented number, according to a BART spokesman – to help resolve the situation, but efforts appear to be unsuccessful so far.
BART is attempting to close a $250 million deficit over the next four years, but have been stymied by unions’ demands for a three percent wage increase, despite the fact that the “union on average $114,000 a year in wages and benefits.” As BART spokesman Linton Johnson said, “This is not a good time to be asking for a raise.” Furthermore, Johnson pointed out that ” [t]his is our first time that we’ve asked the unions to dig into their pockets,” and that “[t]he riders have already dug into their pockets.”
A MediaNews editorial (which owns various Bay Area newspapers) takes the unions to task for its exorbitant pay and benefits, which increases labor costs and contributes to the high price of utilizing public transit. The editorial notes some of the unions’ more generous provisions that they enjoy:
Most BART workers who retire at age 55 with 30 years of service will collect an annual pension equal to 60 percent of top salary. Most who retire at age 63 with 40 years of service can collect 97 percent of top salary.
Meanwhile, BART workers don’t contribute a dime to their pensions. The district pays the employer’s share, 10 percent of salary, to the pension plan. And it picks up the portion that’s typically paid by the employee — in this case, about 7 percent of salary.
Then there’s health care. BART’s employees and retirees choose from about five different health plans. The cost to the employee or retiree is $82 a month, no matter how many family members are covered or which plan is selected. BART pays the rest of the premium, costing the district as much as $1,868 a month. It’s a deal generally unmatched by private-sector employers.
With these kinds of benefits, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would go on strike. Yet the unions seem to find an excuse for it. Never mind the fact that not getting that three percent raise to pad that $114,000 income outweighs the burden and inconvenience of a strike for the more than 350,000 Bay Area residents who utilize BART.