The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), representing employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, have gone on strike, disrupting service to the 400,000 Bay area residents who rely on the system on a daily basis. The unions previously disrupted service in July, when they went on strike for four and a half days. Unlike other public employees, unionized BART workers do not have a "No Strike" clause in their contracts, allowing them to continue holding the region hostage whenever they want. At the heart of the months-long conflict are proposals by BART officials asking BART employees to contribute to their pensions and more towards their health care benefits.
The situation is hardly a pitched battle between low-wage public servants challenging an unfair system. The average BART employee earns $76,000 in base salary and overtime; by comparison, the median household income in San Francisco is only $71,000. BART employees make far more than transit workers in other systems, including $30,000 more per year than their counterparts in Los Angeles.
In addition, BART employees receive tens of thousands of dollars in benefits towards which they contribute very little. For health insurance, BART employees have only had to pay $92 a month, and are apparently furious at a BART proposal that would gradually raise their monthly contribution to $144 by 2017. Even more absurdly, BART employees have never contributed towards their own pension plans, in an arrangement known as a "pension pickup." In addition to paying for the "employer contributions" towards CalPERS, which BART employees are enrolled in, taxpayers last year doled out $17 million making pension contributions on behalf of the now striking BART employees.
The most recent proposal put out by BART seems far more generous than it should be:
- A four year contract
- 3% salary increases every year for four years
- An offer to pay BART employees $500 a year in bonuses if ridership increases 1% above forecasted levels (capped at $1000)
- Annual phasing in of pension contributions by 1% a year
- Phasing in increased contributions to health benefits by 2017
The unions themselves haven't made public their most recent proposals, though a look at their prior proposals show how ridiculous their demands are:
- A three year contract
- 4.5% salary increase per year
- Pension contributions of 1.4% the first year, 2.8% the second, and 4.9% the third
- Increasing the health insurance premium by no more than 15% (raising it to about $106)
The above is actually more modest than earlier proposals, which included a demand for a 23% salary increase. For the overwhelming majority of people in the public and private sector, the demands and actions of the BART unions are slap in the face to decency and common sense.
In countering this, the two public employee unions are counter offering:
- Length of contract: 3 years
- Pay: 4.5 percent raise each year
- Pension: 1.4 percent first year, 2.8 percent second year, 4.9 percent third year
- Health insurance: Increasing average premium contribution by 15 percent