Even though its union employees have been the center of attention as of late, BART's employees from top to bottom are among the highest paid in the country for the work they do. Even when accounting for a cost of living difference in different regions, this outcome remains.
Just look locally. BART train operators who operate automated trains are paid $30.22 per hour on average; drivers of non-automated buses at AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Muni and SamTrans, between $25.68 and $29.52.
Beyond above-market wages, all BART employees pay nothing into their retirement, receive medical after retirement after just five years of service, pay $92 per month into medical insurance regardless of family size, are paid overtime for coming in on their off-days even if they didn't work their on-days, have lavish sick and vacation time use options, among many other perks.
Hence, the topics of BART's current labor negotiations highlight a districtwide phenomenon, not a union-specific problem. Something often overlooked, though, is that union workers make up the vast majority of the BART workforce and everyone wants equal benefits. As such, what is negotiated with unions is what determines what happens with non-reps; the rules for the many are what set the standard for the few. Unions, therefore, cannot separate themselves from management as they try.
Given our state of good repair needs and the ever-increasing costs of pension and medical, BART is finally trying to institute cost sharing. On June 30, BART proposed an 8 percent wage increase over four years through a combination of unconditional (5 percent) and conditional (3 percent) components if workers agree to an increasing share of pension and medical costs.
Pension contribution would increase over four years from 2 percent in Year One to 5 percent in Year Four; medical, from 6 percent to 16 percent, including a gradation that accounts for family size. One last item on the proposal is addressing the "false overtime" situation through work rule changes and/or as a part of the conditional wage increase.
The unions began by demanding a 5 percent per year wage increase, in addition to a full cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), over three years -- a cumulative increase of 23 percent with nothing in return.
On June 30, they brought their annual wage increase demand down ... to 4.5 percent plus the full COLA! To their credit, they have suggested increasing the service commitment required to get medical after retirement to 15 years. While I agree with this objective, as occurred in past negotiations, it's almost inevitable that strings are attached: additional wage increases today that match projected future savings from medical-after-retirement rule changes.
They say they're demanding so much because they didn't get a raise four years ago and need to catch up to the increases of everyone else. But when you look at the long-term picture, such as their $3,000 lump-sum and 12 percent raise from the 1997 contract, 22 percent raise from the 2001 contract, 7 percent raise from the 2005 contract, and the $3,000 lump-sum and 1 percent conditional raise from the 2009 contract, our workers are ahead. Many workers around the globe haven't received raises, period. There are raises and there are fair wages and benefits. The latter is what matters at the end of the day. Our workers have that and then some.
Let's put an end to theatrics and get back to seeking what is fair for workers, the district and taxpayers, bearing in mind that what the unions negotiate with us is what will allow us to make changes higher up. It is my hope that my colleagues will join me in holding the line as so many constituents have already asked of me.
Zakhary Mallett is a member of the BART Board of Directors, District 7.