You, the Bay Area public, suffered through two disruptive, frustrating and expensive strikes.

We think you deserve to know why you got caught up in these seemingly interminable negotiations. It's because there was so much at stake. The result: contracts that addressed the long-term solvency of BART and the modernization of the system for the public.

The contracts contain an employee wage increase consistent with recently negotiated labor agreements in other Bay Area communities and mirrors the terms of the labor agreement approved for state employees.

In return, BART negotiated important cost-sharing reforms to provide financial sustainability:

  • For the first time, employees will start paying into their pensions. This agreement sets BART on a path for the future that allows employees a good retirement while preventing pensions from eating up future budgets, as has happened in bankrupt cities like Stockton and Detroit.

  • Employees will now pay more toward their medical premiums, helping BART address rising medical costs. In addition, the number of years for an employee to be fully vested for retiree medical benefits will increase from the current five years to 15 years.

    But even more important, gone are 40-year-old work rules that required BART to negotiate changes that were commonplace in the rest of the industry. The BART board fought hard to remove the "mutual agreement" requirement union leaders were using to block the introduction of new technology. Now, thanks to the BART board making a stand, BART management gains the right to roll out technological improvements, needing only to "meet and confer" with unions about such changes.

    This is vital because the fleet that BART is ordering will come with a host of modern technologies, and BART's skilled technicians will now be able to make the most of them.

    BART management also made important gains to improve attendance. An example: Employees who take an unpaid day off will no longer be eligible for overtime pay if they haven't worked 40 hours that week.

    These efficiencies will also save money BART can use to reinvest in our aging system to address threats to our reliability. The board of directors has set three top priorities: the new trains; a new train control system to increase the frequency of rush-hour service; and a state-of-the-art facility in Hayward to maintain the new fleet efficiently.

    This contract lays the groundwork to avoid a downward spiral of BART service. Without reinvestment, BART faces eroded reliability, slipping ridership and dwindling revenues from ticket-paying customers.

    This newspaper's suggestion that BART board members got "rolled" is inflammatory, divisive and untrue. It conveniently overlooks that our negotiations are under the auspices of federal collective bargaining laws. BART is not some banana republic dictatorship which can force feed working conditions to its people. Nor would we want to.

    We also didn't want a prolonged strike. Extending the second strike would have only deepened the suffering of the public. The work stoppages cost people time and money they could ill afford to lose -- service industry employees who risked being docked pay for being late, single mothers who paid extra money for child care, disabled people who had to scramble to find alternate ways to get to appointments. The BART board reached a reasonable compromise with its unions that we believe will benefit the public and the riders through substantial changes that were made in this groundbreaking contract now and in future years.

    On the night the tentative agreements were signed, the lieutenant governor said, "This has to be the last time this happens. This was a reminder this weekend that this was about people. Lots of people have had their lives affected by this."

    We, as BART board members, agree. We pledge to work on finding a way to prevent this from happening again.

    Gail Murray and Joel Keller are both directors who represent the East Bay on the BART board.