What are striking BART workers thinking?
They're already the top-paid transit system employees in the region and among the best in the nation. They also have free pensions, health care coverage for their entire family for just $92 a month and the same sweet medical insurance deal when they retire after just five years on the job.
They work only 37½ hours a week. They can call in sick during the workweek and then volunteer for overtime shifts on their days off. The rules exacerbate out-of-control overtime that added in 2012 an average 19 percent to base pay for station agents and 33 percent for train operators.
Meanwhile, BART faces a $142 million operating shortfall over the next 10 years. It already owes a $636 million debt for employees' pension and retiree health care benefits. Aging train cars and the train control system must be replaced. And BART faces billions of dollars of deferred maintenance and repairs.
There is no extra money. Indeed, future tax increase requests are planned. Every dollar that BART raises salaries must come from somewhere, either more taxes, fare increases or more debt that will be pushed onto future generations.
It's against this backdrop that workers demanded 23 percent salary increases over the next four years. Their thinking remains completely divorced from reality.
They complain that they have gone without raises for several years. So have many Bay Area workers, including those who pay their salaries. More important, that argument ignores that BART employees are still among the best-compensated for the jobs they perform.
It's time for them to get real. And it's time for local labor-backed politicians to butt out.
We've seen this movie before. We know how well things work out when legislators and members of Congress stick their noses in where they don't belong. Their pressure led to the unaffordable deals that helped get us into this mess. Neither the BART board nor the area can afford to allow that to happen again.
As for commuters, we feel your pain. We understand your frustration. We are out there with you trying to navigate the clogged streets and highways in this sweltering heat. We know exactly how difficult this is.
We ask you to be patient, to recognize that it's a matter of pay now or pay more later. If BART directors fail to rein in costs -- in other words, if they cave -- you will face higher fares and taxes while service deteriorates.
Until Monday, it had been 16 years since the last BART strike. Given the unreasonable labor demands, this one was inevitable. The alternative was a financial train wreck that could dramatically impact the system for decades to come.