Is a BART Strike Necessary?

This is a update to an article I published about a week ago. Since then, new data, negotiations, and information has been made available. The old article can be viewed here:

The biggest change in the last week is that BART has since decreased their wage demands from 23% (7% a year) to a 12% cumulative increase (as of early October). Two raises of 3.7% and a final one of 4%. This is close to half of their original demand. This, in addition to other newly discovered data, has slightly changed my stance. In short, I believe BART and union workers can get what they both want if they properly manage the organization going forward.

Even without this raise, BART workers still exceed their peers in the industry in gross pay, making more than 50% over their LA counterparts and about 1/3 over their Silicon Valley equivalents. BART workers make over $10K more than SF MUNI workers who presumably live and work in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the entire nation, if not world. This 12% increase (in cyan) would put BART workers far ahead of all of them. Asterisks denote Bay Area agencies:


But why do BART unions want such a significant increase? They cite not having received a pay increase in several years, and no one has seemed to ask why. In 2009, BART unions threatened another strike:

“BART went into negotiations with the goal of cutting $100 million in labor costs, through reductions in health care and pensions and changing what they considered “wasteful” work rules, like unnecessary overtime.

“… four of the five unions and non-union employees to get a one percent raise if strict guidelines were met, including increased ridership and sales tax revenues.”


BART wanted to cut overtime payments and pension payments. They negotiated a bunch of new guidelines, that if met, would give BART workers a 1% wage increase. Those goals were met, ridership went up, revenues went up. But instead of taking the 1% that they negotiated for, they want 3.7%. And 3.7% the following year. And 4% the next.


Historically, BART fares have tracked BART wages. If this trend keeps up, be prepared to pay even more in the coming years. The last strike threat was only 4 years ago.

On the side of the BART workers, the argument of fairness comes up. Shouldn’t BART workers get decent salary increases every few years? Yes, they should. I believe everyone should make as much money as they can with the talents and skills they possess. I also believe a 3-4% annual increase is reasonable for anyone in any industry.

But I also believe that a strike is necessary to address employee grievances. On the topic of earnings, BART workers well exceed all of their peers. They have also reportedly agreed to a 1% upon meeting certain criteria as a part of their last bargaining agreement. This leads me to believe: this strike isn’t about grievances, it’s about excess.

And excess is one of the union sticking points that they refuse to give up. In 2009, BART had to address “wasteful” work rules, like overtime pay. After looking over some numbers, this should be the sticking point BART should negotiate most aggressively. Some key figures:


Percent of union employees who received overtime pay in 2012


Percent of base, average employee earned in OT


The salary of a Senior Operations Foreworker


His overtime pay in the same year


Other people with the same title and skill set


Total overtime paid in 2012


The increase every BART worker could receive a year for three years
if overtime was abolished and redistributed

It may bear repeating: If BART cut all overtime hours, within one year, BART has enough cash, on hand, to give every BART union worker a 5% raise without raising fares or increasing revenues a single cent.

In case you were wondering what does a Senior Operations Foreworker do? Here is the job description. This isn’t a highly specialized job nor does it require any specific education, which leads me to believe the reason he was able to rack up so much overtime is because union rules allow him to do so:


Under general supervision, plans, directs, supervises, and reviews the work of a shift of operations staff involved in revenue system support in rail and/or station operations; acts as a primary tower foreworker in rail operations; provides for the instruction of staff in work and safety procedures; performs a variety of administrative or special assignments; performs related work as assigned.


Graduation from high school or the equivalent and two years of experience as an Operations Foreworker with the District.

No, the BART strike isn’t necessary. It’s analogous to a child throwing a tantrum because he can’t have his cake and eat it too. But the onus isn’t on them alone – BART has mismanaged their workforce to a point that multiple workers are making more than 140% of their regular pay in overtime. As a public agency, BART has the responsibility to properly manage their workers and shifts; while the unions should stop allowing, and exploiting this type of behavior. This is inexcusable behavior on both parties, and the only people suffering for it are the commuters.


Another thing to consider. An editorial at the Oakland Tribune reports:

The three-year expiration would also line up with the end of the newly negotiated AC Transit contract, once again leaving the East Bay vulnerable to a walkout by workers at both agencies.

Additional Sources
R code:

data <- read.csv("bart-raises-prices.csv")

g <- ggplot(data, aes(x=Year)) + geom_smooth(aes(y=inflation.index), col="gray") + geom_line(aes(y=fare.index), col="black") + geom_line(aes(y=union.revised), col="red") + geom_line(aes(y=union.raise.index), col="pink") + geom_line(aes(y=raise.index), col="blue") + theme_bw()

Revenue data
Salary Data

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