Bay Area commuters got a reprieve when Gov. Jerry Brown blocked a Monday morning BART strike and appointed a fact-finding panel to investigate the labor dispute. Whether this merely delays another system shutdown or forces movement toward a reasonable resolution depends on how thoroughly the three-member panel dives into the details.
The panel has until Sunday to prepare its report. It will then be up to the governor to decide whether to seek a court-ordered 60-day cooling-off period. We again urge him to resist that temptation. If BART workers remain hell-bent on striking, we'd rather endure the pain during the summer when many commuters are on vacation.
Meanwhile, to be effective, the panel needs to step back and examine the big picture -- to survey transit agencies around the region, the state and the nation and determine if there is any other system that pays its train operators as well.
It should compare total compensation after adjusting for the Bay Area's cost of living; BART employees' 371/2 -hour work weeks; the generous pensions toward which they pay nothing; and the heavily subsidized health care toward which they contribute only $92 per month, no matter how many dependents they have.
The fact is that BART workers are already some of the best -- perhaps the best -- compensated transit workers in the nation. Yet they entered these negotiations demanding 23 percent pay increases over the next four years, and were at last report still asking for more than 20 percent. That's absurd. For months now, we've heard workers demonize BART management and directors as union busters. That's false. No one is talking about breaking the backs of labor -- only restoring fiscal sanity. For years, BART unions have called the shots, leveraging political advantage to gain fat, unsustainable contracts. It's time for that to end.
As always, there will be a temptation to split the difference between labor's ridiculously unaffordable demands and management's generous offers. But the midpoint between the two positions is not reasonable. That's why the panel's report is so critical.
To be clear, the panel will not make recommendations. Under the law, the report "shall include a statement of the facts with respect to the dispute, including the respective positions of the parties."
The law also requires that the report be made public. That's refreshing because it will allow all of us to see what each side is proposing and to assess whether the panel has done a thorough analysis. All public employee labor negotiations should be conducted this way. The more sunshine, the better.
The report alone won't bring an end to the standoff. But, if it's thorough and responsible, it should inject some much-needed reality into the debate.