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PD Editorial: The absurdity of 2nd BART strike

  • Bay Area Rapid Transit system workers on a picket line at the Lake Merritt BART Station in Oakland, Calif., Oct. 18, 2013. Employees of the Bay Area’s main commuter railroad walked off the job Friday for the second time in three months, after labor talks broke down and federal mediators said there was nothing more they could do to bring the sides together. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

At least congressional Republicans can claim they shut down the federal government to get the nation to address its mounting debt.

What was the purpose of the decision by transit unions to shut down BART on Friday, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters in the lurch?

It's just greed — and control.

On Sunday, BART officials presented what they said was management's final offer, one that included annual 3 percent raises over four years in exchange for an agreement that workers start contributing toward their retirement benefits. Given the transit system's long-term financial challenges, it was overly generous.

Salaries of BART workers already average nearly $80,000 a year, making them among the best paid transit workers in the nation. On top of that, unlike most people with retirement plans, BART employees don't contribute a dime toward their pension plans. And that's taking a toll on BART's finances.

The transit system faces a shortfall of between $200 million and $700 million — depending on how optimistic one is about the stock market's performance over the next 30 years — in meeting its long-term retirement obligations. In addition, the transit system faces a $142 million operating budget shortfall over the next 10 years.

But union officials have been slow to acknowledge the hard facts about BART's financial picture. Union workers began these negotiations with a breathtaking demand for a 23 percent pay raise over three years. They have since reduced their demand to something in the range of a 16 percent increase over four years. Workers also appear to accept the need to contribute toward their retirement benefits.

In fact, both sides say they were close to an agreement on financial terms when talks blew up over work rules. The two unions representing workers say they're opposed to a BART demand that it be allowed to change employees' fixed work schedules. As it is, some employees work four-day, 10-hour shifts while others work five-day, eight-hour shifts. BART managers want the flexibility to schedule people as they see fit to reduce waste and increase inefficiency. It makes sense.

But the unions don't want to give up that control — so thousands of Bay Area commuters are paying the price.

BART workers rightly note that they made $100 million in concessions in 2009, shortly after the economy went in the tank. That was at a time when BART faced a shortfall of more than $300 million. But union members appear to be living in some parallel universe in demanding a return to the halcyon days of the mid-2000s.


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