Today, BART's board of directors will vote on a $1.53 billion budget that includes $673 million in operating expenses. Some 57 percent of those expenses, or $382 billion, is for "labor" — or, too often, the lack thereof.
The budget reflects $127 million for 1,051 "transportation and system service" employees independent of maintenance and engineering. That works out to $120,000 apiece, although train operators and station agents have a maximum annual salary of $62,000 with an average of $17,000 a year in overtime pay. At least some of the additional expense per employee is explained by the fact that employees of BART pay less than $100 a month for insurance regardless of the number of dependents they have and don't have to pay into their pensions.
The workers and BART management are trying to negotiate new contracts by June 30, when the current contracts run out. BART employees could strike on July 1 or continue to work without a contract. According to BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost, the unions want a 23 percent increase in pay. The agency says it can't afford such an increase and wants employees to contribute to pensions and pay more for health care.
If BART's management negotiating team is made up of the same geniuses who "negotiated" the agency's contract with then-General Manager Dorothy Dugger, then there is no hope for a rational resolution. In May 2011, Dugger was run out of her job by a 5-4 vote of the board of directors. She got a parting gift of $920,000 and another $330,000 in vacation pay. With her replacement Grace Crunican making $316,000 a year (the president of the United States only makes $400,000), I imagine it's hard not to giggle when BART representatives say they can't afford a pay increase for operators. At a cost of $143 million over three years, a 23 percent raise is only 114 Duggers!
If it's true that Dugger didn't take vacations for 10 years, then she's the only one. Another contentious issue between the unions and management is the statistic that, on average, each BART employee calls in for 40 unscheduled days off per year. Union representatives dispute those numbers and instead direct the public's attention to the fact that injuries to BART station agents are on the rise, so more shifts should be covered by two agents, lest one be left alone.
In a crazy coincidence (literally) on May 10, a naked man named Yeiner Perez reportedly went berserk at the 16th and Mission BART station, accosting several people and assaulting a woman. With no police around, the only person who stepped up to protect the two women Perez grabbed was a BART maintenance worker who fought off Perez while a station agent filmed the incident.
So, is that why we need two station agents at a time — one to fight and one to film? With a police force made up of 291 people costing $52 million a year (that's $180,000 average) and an "independent police auditor" costing $161,500, it is outrageous that a BART employee had to risk his own safety to deal with a deranged predator.
Though he deserves a raise and a vacation, he didn't help the cause of his union much when — in the middle of the altercation — he stated to the woman filming, "I'm gonna take me three days off."
Melissa Griffin's column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in "Mornings with Melissa" at 6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at email@example.com.