BART is killing off a bountiful perk that lets top managers build up years of unused vacation and sick time, sometimes sweetening their retirements by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Outrage over the practice rose last year when this newspaper revealed the agency's ousted general manager Dorothy Dugger had stayed on BART's payroll -- at a total cost of nearly $700,000 -- for nearly two years after she stopped working. So lucrative is the perk that Dugger accrued $257,000 worth of vacation time, benefits and bonuses while sitting at home.
"It will be prohibited in the future," Joel Keller, president of the regional transit agency's board, said of the practice called "terminal leave." "It's about time, honestly. People shouldn't be able to earn vacation when they are on vacation."
The new policy comes as BART wrestles with its public image after lengthy contract negotiations with unions last year that resulted in two strikes and what critics called overly generous raises to workers.
General Manager Grace Crunican said Monday the action on vacation time is twofold: Future employees won't be able to take a long payout like Dugger did. They also will have to cash out unused vacation balances at the end of each year -- at or close to the pay rate at which the time was accrued -- rather than save it for years and be paid for it at their highest salary.
Current employees won't be able to bank vacation going forward, but can still cash out when they retire what they already have saved up in past years.
Newly released pay records show that in 2013, BART paid more than $50,000 each in unused time off to 22 former employees who took bulk payments when they retired. Those people combined to receive more than $2.15 million in unused vacation, sick, compensatory and holiday time.
Tops on that list was train control engineer Ned Milin, 61, of Danville, who received more than $190,000. He did not return phone calls. Others included police commanders, managers of computer systems and the agency's chief safety officer, all of whom took bulk payments.
Dugger had more than 3,200 hours of unused vacation, sick, compensatory and holiday time stockpiled when she resigned under fire in April 2011. She took advantage of the "terminal leave" program -- a practice rare for even generous public agencies -- by choosing to draw down her time as if she were still an employee.
That time enabled her to stay on BART's payroll for 20 months after she quit -- a decision made so quietly one director told this newspaper last year he was shocked to learn about it more than two years later. And BART paid her more than $150 an hour -- even though she had earned much of the time at a lower pay rate earlier in her career.
All that time, Dugger received medical benefits, contributions toward her pension and management benefits while not working. As she burned off that time, she accrued an additional 775 hours of sick, vacation and holiday worth about $119,000 for which BART was on the hook.
Even when she finally decided to sever ties with the agency in January 2013, she had enough unused time left to cash in an additional $67,000.
It's "another appalling example of the public being fleeced as BART employees run laughing all the way to the bank, while commuters are stuck with rising fares and enduring awful service and conditions," said longtime BART rider Kristin Valus, a psychologist who commuted for years between Fremont and San Francisco.
In all, Dugger's total compensation since she left the agency, including benefit costs, topped $696,000.
BART also paid her a $920,000 settlement after Dugger threatened to sue over her botched firing.
Keller said no employees will lose banked time, but top managers in the future will be required to cash in unused time yearly at the pay rate at which that time was accrued rather than save it for years.
"We had people who banked an hour from 20 years ago when they (were paid) $25 an hour and cashed it in at $100," Keller said. "A lot of folks do this intentionally."
Crunican said she has put the new policy in place for non-union employees beginning Jan. 1, 2015. The agency is currently negotiating with a police managers union with a goal of striking the perk from the officers' contract. Another white-collar union has already agreed, she said.
Dugger didn't return phone calls to her Oakland home. Last year in an interview with this newspaper she said that she had earned the unused time off and deserved to use it however she wanted.
It was not immediately clear how many BART workers were on similar terminal leave in 2013. But one, Wilbur Wong, who stopped working in 2011, was paid nearly $100,000 last year, all of it for unused time off.
During the 33 months that he drew down more than 5,000 hours of unused time off, Wong accrued another 1,224 hours .
Crunican said BART has no policy to "force employees to take (vacation) at any point in time." But by removing both terminal leave and the ability to stockpile time off for years, employees "no longer have an economic incentive to save it until the end."