Forty thousand San Franciscans accustomed to using the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) were left scrambling today as 2,300-plus BART workers are on strike. Labor contracts for these employees expired at midnight without a new deal in place, as the city and labor unions couldn’t agree on pay, pension contributions, and medical costs. The Mercury News reports:
“We have no choice but (to) leave the table and inform the riding public with enough time for them to make other arrangements for Monday,” John Arantes, president of the local Service Employees International Union, said Saturday evening. That left BART management with no one to talk to, and negotiations were scheduled to resume at 11 a.m. on Sunday — if the unions show up. [...]
Leaders from the local Amalgamated Transit Union, the other major union, said on Saturday morning that they were headed to BART headquarters in Oakland “with their suitcases packed, ready to stay until a new contract is negotiated and avert a strike.” But that optimism did not last long, and the workers packed up and left at 4 p.m.
According to the report, the average BART worker made $83,157 in gross pay last year (up four percent from 2010). A 1 percent increase already set to kick in could have been buttressed by an additional 8 percent wage increase offered by the city, pushing the average worker’s gross pay to $90,600 by 2016. That fell short of the union proposal for 23 percent pay increases.
BART management also offered “meaningful reductions” to employee pension and health care contributions, but that didn’t pass muster with union leadership. The SEIU and Amalgamated Transit Union want their Bay Area members to rake in more than $100,000 a year on average, with comfy pension packages at no personal cost to boot.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with public employees getting paid handsomely. If San Francisco were already fulfilling its obligations to all its citizens and still had a little left over, we would be the first to say that some of that money should go toward generous pay and benefit packages for hard-working city employees.
Unfortunately, San Francisco’s expenses are growing 12 percent faster than its revenues, and an alarming 12 percent of its population (96,550 people) now lives below the poverty line. As always, labor unions are asking the city to lavish funds on its members at the expense of badly needed expenditures for other vital social services.
The question now is which side the majority of San Francisco citizens will chose to support.
[Image of empty BART train courtesy of Wikimedia]