WSJ: Unions Stalling Progress in SF Transit Strike

Image: WSJ: Unions Stalling Progress in SF Transit Strike Striking BART workers picket on Oct. 18 in Oakland, Calif.

Monday, 21 Oct 2013 02:12 PM

By Dan Weil

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Coddled unions represent the sticking point in the San Francisco transit strike, says a Wall Street Journal editorial.

"President [Barack] Obama keeps saying that government needs to spend more to improve the country's aging roads and mass transit," Journal editors wrote Monday. "But as the San Francisco Bay Area transit strike is showing, the real problem isn't too little spending but a lack of productive investment."

The workers went on strike over failed contract negotiations, the Journal noted. Laborers in the Service Employees International Union and Amalgamated Transit Union now contribute nothing to their pensions and can retire at age 55 with annuities totaling 60 percent of their salary and almost free medical benefits, the Journal reported.

The unions have offered to devote 4 percent of their wages to pensions and to pay for 9.5 percent of medical premiums, up from about 6 percent now. But in exchange, they want a 15.9 percent raise over four years.

Bay Area Rapid Transit President Tom Radulovich says his agency can afford at most only a 12 percent raise over that period. The average worker already garners $78,000 in salary and about $52,000 more in benefits a year, the Journal observed.

"The union's 470-page work-rule book ought to be required reading in a course on how great nations decline," the editorial said.

"Workers receive overtime if they call in sick one day and report for duty on a later day that week that they're scheduled to have off. They also get overtime if they skip any of their two 15-minute breaks and 30-minute lunch break. Birthdays are paid holidays."

The Journal also noted that the transit system is stuck using out-of-date technology, such as faxes and manual record-keeping, because the unions have veto power over changes in labor practices, including technological upgrades.

"Mr. Radulovich says the agency needs labor efficiencies to maintain and improve its system. Its 30-year-old train fleet is the oldest among the major mass transit networks," the Journal stated.

"He also calls the work rules pure 'waste,' but an employer's waste is a union's gravy train. The unions oppose productivity improvements because inefficiencies increase the demand for labor [including overtime] and yield more dues."

The problem is attitude, the editorial concluded.

"Unions and their political allies, President Obama included, view mass transit as a public jobs program and government stimulus rather than a means to enhance productivity in the private economy."

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