Friday, July 03, 2009

BART Unions Facts and Figures

Some of you may have seen already and are aware of the figures. I've had a chance to read through it tonight and found a few facts disturbing but not surprising.

We've all heard by now that the average salary and benefits for union members is $114,466 for FY 09 and $116,237 in FY 10; more than double the average salary of a passenger. But have you seen the nearly ridiculous labor rules?

Now, it is my personal opinion that unions contributed to the downfall of the American auto industry, at least that is what I've come to believe after reading numerous news articles and case studies. Hence, I have to admit that I've never been a fan of unions but understand and respect (not necessarily agree with) what they seek to accomplish.

Take a look at these rules below (excerpts taken from They are similar to other union labor rules...inflexible but serve to (over)protect members. My goodness-- no wonder the train, stations, lots are in such poor shape. No wonder an escalator does not get fixed for days! No wonder certain critical elevators don't operate regularly!! Meanwhile, we actually thought our email complaints will make a difference in the quality of customer service?? What was I thinking? Sure, this website is managed by BART and not the unions but these facts and figures are validated. If someone from the unions would like to dispute these facts or publicize figures around BART management, please feel free to do so! We want and NEED to hear both sides.

Here are some rules:

Changing a Seat at BART – Not So Simple

Last year, BART installed new seats in 205 train cars as part of a major upgrade of the interior amenities of our system. While we hope the changes are a comfort to our riders, they may be surprised to know that it takes two employees at BART to change out a seat cushion and backing under current contract rules.

The contract allows a utility worker to unfasten the snaps that hold a seat cushion in place. But the two screws fastening a seat back can only be touched by a journeyman mechanic. BART changed some 26,000 seat cushions last year. As a result, we think it would be more efficient if one employee was authorized to service the entire portion of a seat. It would result in freeing up mechanics to perform more important, skilled work.

Paperless Pay Stubs Now Back To Paper:

In an effort to save money and reduce the amount of paper BART uses, we moved to an electronic pay stub format for employees two years ago. Most of our employees use direct deposit and under a new system they could access their pay stub information via secure computer login. In recent months, the Amalgamated Transit Union filed a grievance over the paperless system and an arbitrator has upheld the protest – meaning BART will now have to go back to paper pay stubs.

Station Maintenance – Walk the Line

Perhaps nowhere are work rules more arbitrary than when it comes to the “drip line” rule regarding maintenance at BART stations. Under this rule, one classification of worker – a patio worker — is allowed to clean the outdoor areas of a station up to the station’s drip line, essentially a rain gutter. Another type of BART employee – a System Service worker – has authority to clean only the interior spaces of a station.

This two-tier maintenance system leads to the irregular or partial cleaning of stations and is exacerbated by the fact that patio workers work only Monday through Friday while System Service workers are assigned to shifts seven days a week.

Beneficial Past Practices No Longer Benefiting BART:

A major reason that BART’s contract is stuck firmly in the past is the concept of “beneficial past practices” – a principle that has helped strengthen workers’ rights and protections but at BART has been manipulated to preserve outdated work rules.

Over the years, a series of arbitration rulings has allowed the unions to keep wasteful contract provisions. If BART operated in a certain way in the 1970s, the concept of beneficial past practices dictates that we must continue to do so today. This is no way for any business to survive and endure in today’s challenging economy.

Beneficial past practices impede our efficiency as a transit agency in a variety of ways. For example, BART is required to allow a certain number of employees to work on holidays at the rate of double time and a half. The number of holiday shifts is not tied to any particular need for staffing on any individual holiday. Instead, it is pegged to an average of workers operating on holiday shifts from the late 1980s.

Similarly, BART is required to staff certain facilities and certain operations units at levels dating from decades ago whether they are needed or not in 2009.

Building a Better Contract:

BART believes that many of the contract rules benefit workers and make our agency a safe and convenient transit option for riders. But clearly there are work rules now decades old that no longer make sense and serve only to limit efficiency and flexibility when they are needed now more than ever in our system.


Sara said...

This is interesting, but a little one-sided. Is there really NOTHING negative on the side of BART management? In my experience being in a union (not BART, a different one) myself and from various discussions with union members over the years, a major reason that unions don't want to make any concessions is that they've had the experience in the past of being totally screwed over when they do (as well as management that tends to be extremely shady and do everything it can to get around a contract that isn't watertight). Now, the "give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile" attitude isn't necessarily the most productive either, but it is understandable when a group has been repeatedly screwed with by management and this is the only way to get a modicum of control over the situation. I don't know if this is the case with BART never having worked in that union or known someone in it before, but it would be nice to see a little more of both sides of the reporting rather than just condemning one side over the other.

Anonymous said...

this isn't a reporting website, it's just random thoughts on bart. if you want news reporting, goto SFGate.

as for unions, i guess they really don't want to admit to the fact that it doesn't take 4 people to change 1 light bulb.

bartmusings said...

Yes, this is definitely one-sided. I welcome any information that lays out the unions' positions. While I'm certainly not a journalist (I'm simply a commuter who chronicles her good and bad experiences on BART on a blog), I do try to be objective when it comes to topics that aren't based on my own experiences. So, I definitely want to hear both sides of the story!

John said...

In my humble opinion management is not being tough enough. BART employees are one of the highest paid transit workers in the country and they are the ones who have taken an inch and created a mile of inequities. Their benefits program is unheard of in both the private and public sector and they want more.

It is the Union that is trying turning up the hard line with riders/commuter predicting gridlock. With fares at an all time high, poor cleaning conditions of the cars, poor customer service they are moving to become one of the worst transit providers. I have ridden both the New York MTA Subway and DC Metro and both run significantly better than BART. So the Union is asking for more money for poorer service that has progressed over the years.

I do not think that it is unfair for employees to pay for their part of the PERS contribution. This would be a good start to negotiating a fair contract for tax payers and riders. I also believe that it would be fare for the employee to pay 30-40 percent of their health benefits. Finally, BART needs to do a salary survey and compare job to the private sector. A whole host of jobs would find significant reductions in salary, some may even find an increase.

Please before siding with a Union try to look at the issue as a tax payer that is being asked to pay more at every level.

Anonymous said...

At one time unions had their place, however now they are generally greedy, obsolete organizations that look out for themselves, not they workers they supposedly represent, and certainly not the busineses those workers work for. Unions like those at BART will drive us all into the ground. BART should propose a contract based on today's business practices, not some archaic crap from decades ago. Unions won't go for business as it is today? Fire them and hire workers who will....