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PD Editorial: The absurdity of 2nd BART strike

  • Striking workers picket outside a BART station in Oakland. (JIM WILSON / New York Times)

At least congressional Republicans can claim they shut down the federal government to get the nation to address its mounting debt.

What was the purpose of the decision by transit unions to shut down BART on Friday, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters in the lurch?

It's just greed — and control.

On Sunday, BART officials presented what they said was management's final offer, one that included annual 3 percent raises over four years in exchange for an agreement that workers start contributing toward their retirement benefits. Given the transit system's long-term financial challenges, it was overly generous.

Salaries of BART workers already average nearly $80,000 a year, making them among the best paid transit workers in the nation. On top of that, unlike most people with retirement plans, BART employees don't contribute a dime toward their pension plans. And that's taking a toll on BART's finances.

The transit system faces a shortfall of between $200 million and $700 million — depending on how optimistic one is about the stock market's performance over the next 30 years — in meeting its long-term retirement obligations. In addition, the transit system faces a $142 million operating budget shortfall over the next 10 years.

But union officials have been slow to acknowledge the hard facts about BART's financial picture. Union workers began these negotiations with a breathtaking demand for a 23 percent pay raise over three years. They have since reduced their demand to something in the range of a 16 percent increase over four years. Workers also appear to accept the need to contribute toward their retirement benefits.

In fact, both sides say they were close to an agreement on financial terms when talks blew up over work rules. The two unions representing workers say they're opposed to a BART demand that it be allowed to change employees' fixed work schedules. As it is, some employees work four-day, 10-hour shifts while others work five-day, eight-hour shifts. BART managers want the flexibility to schedule people as they see fit to reduce waste and increase inefficiency. It makes sense.

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