How would BART’s dishonesty, profligacy play in private sector?

How would BART’s dishonesty, profligacy play in private sector?

BARTTwo classic California outrages are captured perfectly in Dan Borenstein’s appalling Conra Costa Times commentary over the weekend about how Bay Area Rapid Transit officials grossly misled the media on terms of their recent strike-ending labor deal.

The first is the fact that many Golden State public agencies routinely act in ways that would yield criminal and civil legal action and shareholder lawsuits if the same shenanigans took place in the business world.

The second is that in special districts — exemplified by the Metropolitan Water District but seen in water, transit and other agencies around California — there is a disincentive for top officials to play tough in salary negotiations because they personally benefit from overly generous pay and compensation practices. If such practices lead to higher bills sent to ratepayers or to poorer services, so be it.

Take it away, Dan:

“… what the district calls ‘perhaps the most significant change agreed to by unions’ … amends a decades-old contract provision that required union approval before BART managers could alter past work practices.

“That provision has impeded attempts to improve technology, reduce paperwork and increase efficiencies. BART leaders made its elimination a top negotiation priority; they got an alteration instead. Nevertheless, they claim the new language will enable them to improve technology and switch equipment without union approval.

“In fact, changes must still be negotiated with the unions. Unresolved disputes will be subjected to binding arbitration. And the arbitrator may provide relief, including ‘additional compensation.’

“That means unions will demand, and likely receive, more money in exchange for modernization, thereby eroding cost-savings BART desperately needs.”

This part is particularly rich: The concession-that-didn’t-happen was treated as if it happened.

“BART officials cite the contract modification as a key reason for agreeing to the financial terms. But they also misrepresent the monetary aspects.

“For starters, they claim employees, already some of the best paid transit workers in the nation, will net a 9.4 percent increase over the four-year contract. That counts salary increases offset by increased contributions to pensions and health care. In fact, the net benefit to workers is 11.7 percent.”

Will BART bosses pay for their perfidy?

Wait, there’s much more — a list of BART’s financial deceptions:

“First, officials claim the deal will save $2.7 million due to retiree health care changes. New employees will now be required to work 15 years before vesting in the plan, rather than the current five years.

“But most of the savings will materialize decades from now. Nevertheless, BART calculated the savings for 30 years and then credited half of that during just the next four years, thereby grossly inflating the contract savings. It’s fictional accounting.

“Second, BART claims it will save $5 million by encouraging employees with spouses who have health coverage to opt out of the transit district’s insurance. Employees will be offered $350 a month to do so. The question is how many people will take the deal. BART estimates 150 employees will, but they really don’t know.

“Third, the district left a $16 million retirement item out of its accounting.”

“The transit system not only provides traditional pensions, it also funds retirement savings accounts similar to 401(k)s. The district currently contributes $1,869 per year. And until 1991 it also kicked in 1.627 percent of salary.”

So as bad a deal as it looked when it was first reported, it was actually far worse. Will top BART officials face any repercussions for their dishonesty and profligacy?

In a just world, of course. But not in California.

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