1. Average salary of $71,000?!? Why did I go to college?
You went to college because you were privileged. People encouraged you, because they knew it was the right decision for your future. And they were right. In the long run, you will make more than the majority of Americans who did not go to college. The anxiety that underlies this statement is something we all feel about the uncertain future of our economy. How much more uncertain would you feel about it if you were a mid-career professional working for BART, supporting a family with no college degree on wages that have been frozen for the last four years despite recent dramatic increases in ridership? Here is a histogram of BART salaries for full time workers as base pay + overtime + miscellaneous (a mysterious category, generally around $2K for all workers). As you can see, they make ok money in an expensive area. There is also quite a range. Highest paid employees are the two BART general managers on the books, who each make over $300K per year, or $400K if you include their pensions.
Do you really believe that is the whole story? Or are you just listening to the media messaging of an agency that hired a union-busting consultant for $400,000 for this latest round of negotiations? There is longstanding tension between BART and people who object to the way the agency prioritizes suburban expansion above preserving and maintaining the existing BART system.
Train Operator and Station Agent are the most common job titles, with median base pay + overtime + misc of $70.7K and $76.7K per year. However police officers, who did not go on strike generally make $91.8K, and Senior Police Officers make $109.8K.
The BART Police are necessary to keep us safe from naked acrobats, yes. But in case you forgot that they shot a man in the back in front of a train full of people at the Fruitvale station, look, here's the billboard advertising the Hollywood version in the Powell St station.
3. They want a better pension? I don't even have a pension!
Yes. You have social security. BART workers do not because BART does not pay into social security. People, please.
Sarah Lacy of Pando Daily was quoted on Marketplace as saying, “People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions.”
Whatever we feel about unions, life is not a meritocracy. If we want working Americans to have a larger share of the nation's wealth, I'm pretty sure collective action is still our best hope.
About the data: Bay Area News Group publishes data about the salaries of public workers. I downloaded the BART salaries scraped by journalist John Osborn available as a Google Doc here, and I crunched it around while thinking about this issue last week.
There were some irregularities in the data, for example 28 names were repeated twice with different titles, and one name was repeated twice with the same job title, and different salary information. Furthermore, if I total up the columns: base pay, medical benefits, vacation and sick leave, overtime, deferred compensation, employer contribution to pensions, and miscellaneous, I get a total of $365 million, less than the $381.2 million reported for last fiscal year. This could lead me to a tangent about metadata, but let's just leave it that there are uncertainties with this data that I have not been able to resolve.
This story has been corrected. Originally I said Oscar Grant was shot in the head; he was shot in the back while lying down. Thanks to Maggie Shine for the correction.