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.