Tales from the tracks - Page 3

BART strikes are on hold, but the standoff between workers — demonized by many, humanized here — and the district continues

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Robert Bright
Photo by Mark Mosher/SEIU 1021

"It would hurt me," she said. She said that though people in the Bay Area demonize BART workers for wanting a raise, she feels it's simply been too long since they've had one.

"I think I haven't gotten a raise in two contracts. It's been like seven or eight years," she said.

Devoutly religious, ultimately she keeps faith that the workers will prevail in negotiations.

"(God) is going to bring this through," she said. "This thing with management, it's going to be all right."

 

For the Record: Clearing up misinformation about BART workers

 

HEALTHCARE

BART workers pay only $92 a month into their health care. Right? Wrong. "That doesn't tell the full story," said Vincent Harrington, a lawyer representing the unions at the negotiating table. "These workers contributed 1.627 percent of their wages into a fund to cover not only the ongoing health care of active employees, but also the retirees."

That brings the total to about $180 per person, he said, with a caveat. Some time ago, employer-provided health care was capped. "Additional (healthcare) costs beyond that cap would be on the workers and their families, not on BART," he said.

 

PENSIONS

It's true that BART workers don't contribute to their pensions, but the entity responsible for that is BART management. In 1980, BART made the proposal to pay employee contributions to pensions in exchange for wage concessions from BART workers. The unions recently proposed to contribute 7 percent of their pension benefits, with wage increases of 6.5 percent to offset that. BART management said they'd agree, if the wage increase was lowered to 0.5 percent instead.

 

WAGES VERSUS COST

A database constructed by the San Jose Mercury News lists a BART employee's full cost to the taxpayer — often at around $100,000. This is their "cost" to BART, not the wages they take home, a common mistake regularly made by angry online commenters. All employees everywhere, private or public sector, have a cost to their employer past their base salary.

According to Intuit.com, a web resource for small businesses, business owners should consider that each employee they hire will cost twice the amount of their wages. This is normal stuff, people. It's wrong, and not factually significant, to demonize BART workers for costing more than their salaries.

 

OVERTIME

BART employees have also been villainized for working overtime. But these employees don't necessarily want to work overtime at all, and often do it at the urging of managers who have slashed so many workers in the past decade that the only way the trains will run is if everyone puts in extra work. A worker at the Aug. 7 BART hearing said, "I go to work before my daughter wakes up, and I'm home from work when my daughter goes to sleep."

Some mechanics we talked to said that working overtime can also lead to more injuries, and a higher possibility of mistakes that could cost riders their lives.

 

SAFETY

Since 2010, 1,099 BART customers reported being physically attacked, and so were 99 BART employees. Those station agents often work alone at night and just before dawn, the only staff in the entire station. They want extra staffing to help meet OSHA recommendations that employees work in pairs. They also want better worker's compensation coverage. Saul Almanza, a BART representative from SEIU Local 1021 and a 17-year railroader, said "The area where [BART mechanic] Mr. [Robert] Rhodes was killed was very dark, and remains that way today. Look at the picture to the left, and that's where Mr. Rhodes was standing as the southbound train proceeded through the interlock. It was dark and loud, and that's where he was struck as he stood there with no place to go."