BART contract negotiations often have been contentious in the past. This year they are made more difficult by a steep recession and a projected $100 million budget shortfall, even with recent fare increases.
Now there is one more impediment to contract talks: the interference by 15 Bay Area state legislators. They signed a letter to BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and transit directors expressing concern about the direction of contract negotiations.
The letter clearly takes the side of the unions by warning BART directors about the potential of a labor dispute, possible disruption of BART service and concerns about undue economic hardship for BART workers.
The fact is BART management has been working diligently and brought in a mediator to help. There is no call for state legislators to get involved with negotiations, much less to pressure BART managers.
The transit agency isn't alone in dealing with a budget shortfalls. Public agencies, including cities, counties, school districts and other special districts are facing tough economic times, which require sacrifice by workers and managers.
California's unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation, the state's budget is in crisis and many private and government workers are taking pay and benefit cuts along with furloughs and further layoffs.
Despite the grim fiscal situation, BART unions are seeking a 3 percent pay increase and a continuation of highly generous pensions and health benefits.
BART workers have the highest wages of any rail system in the country, even adjusting for the region's high cost of living. They receive benefits equal to 60 percent of their pay, more than double the percentage offered by most private companies.
That is one of the reasons BART fares are among the highest in the nation. Yet the 15 area legislators are taking management to task and are not asking for worker concessions.
These are the same legislators who have been unable to perform their own jobs in Sacramento as the state descends into an ever deeper budget crisis. They are the same lawmakers who lack the fortitude to make the tough fiscal decisions necessary to erase more than a $26 billion deficit.
BART managers so far have taken a necessarily firm stance in negotiating a new four-year contract with transit unions. They deserve praise, not criticism.
Under today's economic circumstances, it is crucial that BART unions, like their counterparts in Contra Costa County, agree to a wage freeze along with some reduction in benefits. That is a bitter pill for BART workers to swallow, but there is no better solution.
Fares are already too high and there is no pot of money available to close BART's huge budget gap.
We urge BART managers to remain firm in their attempt to reach an agreement with the unions that is fair to riders and taxpayers as well as workers.
We also urge legislators not to meddle in BART negotiations as they did eight years ago, when union workers received a 23 percent pay increase over four years, and focus on their work in Sacramento.
Those signing the letter include: state Sens. Mark DeSaulnier, Loni Hancock, Ellen Corbett, Elaine Alquist, Mark Leno and Leland Yee. Also signing were Assembly members Tom Torlakson, Joan Buchanan, Sandre Swanson, Mary Hayashi, Alberto Torrico, Jerry Hill, Tom Ammiano, Nancy Skinner and Fiona Ma.