BART Strikes End, But Workers Still Fight for Higher Wages

David Campos speaking at Civic Center with BART workers. Photo by: Steve Rhodes

En Español.

While the latest round of BART contract negotiations broke down over “work rules” like electronic pay stubs instead of pensions and salaries, union members said they’re still not happy with the 12 percent wage increase that was nearly settled upon, and argue that BART earnings don’t reflect the rising cost of living in the Bay Area.

“Our base level of pay is $61,000 per year before taxes,” said Anita Reyes, member of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and BART train operator of 19 years. “That’s not enough to raise a family on in this economy.”

That base pay is $14,000 less than the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metro area’s current median income of $74,922. In comparison, the average elementary school teacher in San Francisco makes $64,041 according to the California Department of Education.

Dr. Steven Pitts from the UC Berkeley Labor Relations Center said the rising cost of living in the Bay Area is not being met by a growing wage for workers.

“The basis of the battle is a living wage,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t able to work for a living wage and a lot of people don’t have a union fighting for them.”

Reyes is in one of BART’s two largest unions – Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the Amalgamated Transit Union – that went out on strike on Friday.

While management is pushing for scheduling flexibility and electronic pay stubs, unions argue that workers should have consistent work hours, and that pay stubs should be hand-delivered so that employees who don’t have computers can have paper records.

Managers say they want to be able to change procedures without agreement between management and unions. That possibility concerns union leaders, who say work rules are implemented to shield workers from the whims of management.

Union members stress that work rules protect employees from workplace accidents, like this weekend’s fatal collision between two BART maintenance workers. “Workers should have a say in developing the rules and procedures that keep them safe,” John Arantes, president of the SEIU 1021 BART Chapter, said in a post on the SEIU website. “But management has proposed a system by which they could change the rules unilaterally and that’s reckless, radical and wrong.”

ATU president Antonette Bryant says that the new work rules would give management carte blanche while diminishing the rights of workers. Workers agreed.

“The fear is that it [scheduling] may be used as a punitive thing,” said a BART Mechanic, who out of concern unions and management might read his comments, asked to remain nameless. “If management doesn’t get along with you, they might move you to a region that is far from your home or they might put you on the night shift if they know you’re not good working at night.”

While the controversy surrounding work rules has dominated this set of negotiations, Reyes and other union members said they’re just as upset at BART management and union leaders for conceding on a 12 percent BART wage increase, that would roll out over four years. “With inflation and the cost of living,” she said, “we’re being paid like we were living in [year] 2000.” In fact, it is worse than the year 2000. In 2001, a BART worker’s average salary was $49,000, with today’s average salary being $61,000. If their salaries had kept up with the cumulative inflation rate of 32 percent, the average salary would now be $64,680. And this is still significantly lower than the Bay Area’s cost of living today.

As of June 2013, BART Vehicle operators earned $30.58/hour — less than their counterparts in Boston ($31.88 an hour), Chicago ($30.77 an hour), and New York City ($31.87), according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Based on 2013 data from the Economic Policy Institute’s “budget calculator,” it costs $82,639 for a family of four (two parents and two children) to live comfortably in San Francisco; $73,245 in Oakland-Fremont, and $77,619 in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara.

Only Chicago was less expensive, according to the budget calculator, which estimated that the income needed for a family of four in New York at $94, 676, in Chicago, $73, 055, and in Boston $86, 502.

“I live in Alameda, I have two kids and my wife’s passed,” said a BART computer technician who did not want to give his name. “Cost of living is high in my city and our pay doesn’t show that.” He declined to be specific about his housing costs.

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  1. landline

    I fully support the BART workers. But I must point out that the median income figure of $74,922 cited in the article is household, not per capita, income.

  2. community

    this is absurd — if one person in a household of 4 is making $60K+ then you are doing just fine. Your partner would barely have to work at all to be making the amount needed “to live comfortably” — just another $10K or so. There is no reason to be whining that they are not being paid well enough. Heck, if your partner has a decent job too, then your household would be bringing in over $100K! It is not BART’s responsibility to overpay its workers so that their spouses can live a life of leisure and not work.

    • Suki

      Are you for real?
      60K is “just fine”? On what planet?

    • ANa

      …what if you DON’T have a partner? What about a single father, or single mother? Or if a partner is unemployed, disabled etc? Then a Bart worker (like many others of us workers) will need to use public resources somehow… or work 2-3 jobs and never see the children. Or squeeze a family or 3-4 into a 1-bd apt. The fact is that the cost of living in Bay Area is high. Unless you are single w/ no kids (with a good job), or a family w kids where both parents have well paid jobs, life isn’t so rosy.

      • John

        In that case I would suggest that that person should live somewhere cheaper. Oakland rather than the Mission, perhaps? Or Stockton rather than Oakland?

        If your productivity is only worth 30K a year, why would anyone pay you 60K a year just because you claim you need it?

      • These are the things you should be thinking about before you start a family

  3. Papa

    As if the rest of the country’s wages rose proportionally to the inflation rate. And what will happen when wages increase? Ticket prices will increase. And commuters– the people that the system is supposed to serve- are the ones getting screwed.

    • landline

      Actually, if everyone’s wages rose proportionally to the inflation rate, everyone’s standard of living would stay the same as prices (for tickets and other goods) rose.

      The problem is that most people’s wages are rising more slowly than the inflation rate (or decreasing), and other workers harbor misplaced resentment towards unionized workers who have done a little better at resisting the diminishment of wages and benefits.

      And the ultra wealthy are laughing at us and all the way to the bank.

      • Suki

        Pretty much.
        It is sad beyond measure that most of the ire came from other workers who seemed to be enraged that other workers were working collectively. The level of begrudgery in the Bay Area is much higher than I ever knew. I’m unemployed, and feel nothing but admiration for people who take full advantage of being in a Union.

  4. nutrisystem

    Based on the filthy cloth seats alone, I have NO SYMPATHY for the BART workers, or management. I have ridden mass transit all over the world and those seats are a national embarrassment – they say loud and clear “we are corrupt and incompetent”. On top of that, the system is overpriced, can’t keep escalators working, and doesn’t even run late-night.

    An average base salary of $60K/year plus full benefits is more than fair compensation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that OT is widespread, typically bringing real pay far above the base figure.

    The saddest part of this is that the hyperinflation (profiteering) in housing, health care, energy, education, insurance, etc. is making $60K seem like not enough.

    • ANa

      Actually, i agree with this, too.

    • Jon

      “An average base salary of $60K/year plus full benefits is more than fair compensation.”… did you even read the article? Its your opinion that its “fair” but actual facts say that its not, compared to the area’s median salaries and that its effectively a pay cut due to inflation.

      Yes, if they work more OT, they should get paid more, and that says nothing about their BASE salary. What if your employer told you they were giving you a pay cut, but you can work more OT hours to make up for it?

      • John

        Jon, it only makes sense to compare BART salaries to the “Bay Area’s median salaries” if you think that a BART job is at the median point in terms of education, skills and experience.

        Given that no college degree is required to be a BART operator, let alone most of the support jobs, I would in fact expect the average BART worker to make significantly less than the median pay in an area with a booming knowledge economy.

        Apparently, job applications for vacant BART positions are massively over-subscribed, which leads me to conclude that the pay is very high by median standards, else people would work elsewhere.

        Finally, base pay isn’t a good indicator for any public sector job, because of the very high pension and healthcare benefits, which were a central factor in this dispute.

        Overall, I’d assess BART workers as very overpaid by almost any standard. Had I been management here, I would have quite simply offered nothing.

  5. John

    Workers need to understand that what you get paid reflects the value of your job and what it costs to replace you. It doesn’t necessarily represent what it takes to live in the Bay Area at all.

    For some families that doesn’t matter because there are two or more earners in the family. In other cases, maybe those people would be happier living somewhere cheaper.

    But pay for a job can only be determined by its market value and not what someone thinks they need or would like.

  6. nutrisystem

    Unless you’re a bankster or “defense” entrepreneur. Then, pay is based on what you can get away with stealing from the taxpayers (with the help of your lawyers and bribed politicians).

    Or if you’re an “investor”, in which case your pay is based on insider information and manipulation of markets.

  7. Carlos

    People who went to a 4 year College make 64k+… A lot of these Bart employees barely made it past high school… I know so many hardworking people who barely make 25k, 30k per year… Unions are for lazy greedy people….

  8. Pamela

    BART & their Unions are disgusting!
    Must be nice to be uneducated, have a starting salary of $62,000/year + benefits, + pension of 90% of income when retired, & get paid whether you work, show up or not!
    Lazy slugs!
    If they were paid their worth, it probably comes to barely minimum wage, which would suit the riders just fine. They need to be grateful to have a job in these times.
    Educated people who went to a 4-year college barely make this salary their first year out. I’m sure many of them would gladly take these BART positions. Think of how well it would work with intelligent people running the system. We may even get clean seats instead of the moving garbage dump we now have!
    As for Campos, with all the crime, dysfunction in District 9, he needs to get to work on that rather than kowtow to the overpaid, underworked ingrates.
    But, of course, he is running for the State Assemby – He needs those votes!
    Shame on all involved in this scam to the public who pay their salaries!

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