BART pay, benefits so lavish that workers deserve 0% raise

July 3, 2013

By Chris Reed

We’ve been talking seriously in California since the middle of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s second term as governor about the need to rein in insanely costly public employee benefits, and not just pensions. This has led to progress in cities like San Diego and San Jose and to modest reforms for almost all public employees approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2012.

system-mapBut every now and then, a labor fight comes along to remind you of just how ridiculous the situation has gotten and remains in much of California. We’re in the middle of one right now with the strike of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System. The San Jose Mercury-News offers the key details:

“BART employees — including management and nonunion workers — earn an average of about $83,000 annually in gross pay, contribute nothing toward their retirement and $92 monthly to health insurance. Their pay and total compensation are both the highest in the Bay Area among transit agencies.

“BART has offered an 8 percent pay hike over four years and wants workers to pay more toward their medical and pension benefits. The local Service Employees International Union and Amalgamated Transit Union, which represent more than 2,300 train operators, maintenance employees and other blue-collar workers, are looking for a 23 percent pay bump and are willing to contribute more toward benefits, just not as much as management wants.”

All this with a transit system that already is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

Given that these workers “contribute nothing toward their retirement and $92 monthly to health insurance,” their total annual compensation has to be worth upward of $130,000 a year. (Take a look at all BART pension options here; 60 percent of final pay is just the start for a veteran BART worker who retires.)

Boy, with that extremely generous pay, BART must be a well-managed jewel of a public transit system.

Well, no.

Highest-paid 2012 employee? She didn’t work a day

“With a gross salary of more than $333,000, BART’s highest-paid employee last year wasn’t its general manager, police chief or a worker who racked up gobs of overtime scrubbing grime from filthy train seats.

“It was someone who did no work at all for BART in 2012: Dorothy Dugger, the agency’s former general manager who resigned under pressure more than two years ago.

“Under a lucrative retirement scheme, Dugger, 57, quietly stayed on the books, burning off nearly 80 weeks of unused vacation time, drawing paychecks and full benefits for more than 19 months after she agreed to quit in May 2011, according to an analysis by this newspaper. By remaining on BART’s payroll, she accrued almost two extra months of vacation, while sitting at home drawing a six-figure salary for unused time off.

“The months of extra pay were on top of the $920,000 that BART paid Dugger to leave after the agency’s board botched an effort to fire her by violating public meetings laws.”

That’s also from the Mercury-News.

When governance resembles looting

Wait, the Merc-News has more.

“It turns out that Dugger and other management employees can collect ‘terminal leave benefits.’ When managers are hired, they earn three weeks’ vacation each year, gradually increasing to six weeks after 19 years on the job. They also have 13 holidays. Naturally they don’t use it all, so they’re allowed to save unused vacation and holidays without limits. Many can even add some unused sick leave.

“In San Jose, top management and some unions can accrue time like this for a huge payoff when they retire. BART’s system is even more outrageous. When managers leave, they can use that accrued time to actually stay on the payroll — to continue receiving full salary, incentive pay and health benefits, and to accrue work credit that boosts their subsequent pensions. They even — get this — receive holiday pay and accrue more vacation time that they can use to further extend their time on the payroll.”

The same sort of scam has happened in many other agencies, starting with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The bosses don’t care if the rank-and-file get absurd salaries and benefits — because they’re getting even more absurd salaries and benefits. Who looks out for taxpayers inside BART? Nobody.

How insane. How California.

 



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