During BART's high-profile labor negotiations, much of the public anger was focused on union workers' demands for extra pay when they already make some of the highest average salaries in the state.
But it turns out the raises they received reflect the wage bumps that other Bay Area government employees already got in the last few years, according to an analysis by this newspaper of payroll data provided by more than 300 local public agencies. And the BART raises were only slightly more than the pay increases private sector workers received.
BART employees wanted bigger raises chiefly because they saw their pay remain flat during the Great Recession, which began in 2008. Many other workers endured the same fate -- or, worse, endured pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs.
But like BART, the good times have started to roll again for many organizations -- and with it the demands for more pay. While BART workers went on strike in July and again on Oct. 18 to get their raises, other workers -- especially government employees -- have gotten the same results without the pain.
The tentative contract deal that ended the BART strike on Monday night calls for the agency's 2,300 union workers to receive an average annual raise of 3.85 percent each year through 2017.
By comparison, the average Bay Area government worker -- from teachers to cops to garbage truck drivers -- earned an extra 4.8 percent in gross pay in 2011 and got another 4.6 percent increase in 2012, The average private sector worker in the Bay Area has also gotten raises, albeit smaller ones, of 2.3 percent in 2011 and 2.9 percent in 2012, according to data from the state Employment Development Department.
"I think BART is part of that broader trend," said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. "People gave up a significant amount during the budget crisis -- from the furloughs to going without raises. And I think now that the economy is improving, people are hoping to make up some of that lost ground."
BART pay leads the way
But not all raises are created equal.
The average BART employee made $83,200 in gross pay last year, while the union workers behind the strikes averaged $76,500. By comparison, the typical Bay Area government employee made $55,100, while private sector employees earned $65,700.
As a result, a 4 percent raise would provide the average BART union worker another $3,100 a year, but would raise the typical Bay Area government worker's salary an additional $2,200 annually.
And since the BART raises were so high profile, that could lead to envy among other public employees.
"Other unions will say, 'Hey, the BART workers did it. What about us?' " said Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. "But not every union has that kind of strike power -- and therefore that kind of bargaining power."
And unlike many of their public sector counterparts, BART workers didn't see their paychecks go backward during the recession's early years. The raises many other government workers received in the last few years, on the other hand, merely made them whole for the cuts they endured during the downturn.
Since 2008, most workers around the region, state and country have seen their inflation-adjusted wages stay flat, according to an analysis by the Bay Area Council's Economic Institute. The only group to buck that trend: private sector workers in the Bay Area, who have seen wages grow slightly faster then inflation over the last half-decade.
Benefit costs rise
And just because some public workers have started to make more money recently does not mean they are getting to keep it all.
The state, Bay Area cities and many other public agencies have seen their pension and medical costs surge in recent years and have tried to get their employees to pay more for their benefits. That could help explain the recent rise in pay raises, as managers encourage union workers to approve contracts that include weaker benefits.
That was the strategy BART used. Management in the final days of the recent strike increased its wage offer to get union leaders to agree to a proposed 4 percent payroll deduction for pension costs -- up from 0 percent now -- although union members still need to vote on the deal this week. Those growing retirement costs and increased contributions for health care will eat into the BART workers' pay raises.
"We may be seeing a move toward more of that," said Terry Moe, a Stanford political science professor. "It's not as easy any more (for management) to give away pension benefits, so union leaders are going to have to focus more on minimizing the damage there and trying to get (larger) wages."
California's largest public employee union, Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents nearly 100,000 state workers, was awarded a 4.5 percent pay increase over three years in July -- less than a year after state leaders pushed through a pension overhaul that will cost public workers.
The city of San Jose, following the 2012 passage of Mayor Chuck Reed's pension reform measure aimed at increasing benefit costs for workers, approved 2 percent raises for non-police workers this year. The city also offered police officers a 3 percent annual raise for one year, but the police union -- which has predicted a mass exodus of cops because of the pension changes -- rejected the pay bump earlier this month and demanded it be doubled.
But the scenario facing San Jose's cops represents the new reality for many government workers, said Tracey Grose, the economic institute's vice president.
"It's less and less likely," Grose said, "that people are going to be able to count on retirement and health benefits that you don't have to contribute substantially to."
BART union workers: $76,500
All BART employees: $83,200
Bay Area government employees: $55,100
Bay Area private sector workers: $65,700
Total pay increases, from 2010 to 2012
BART: remained flat.
Bay Area government employees: up 9.6 percent
Bay Area private sector workers: up 5.4 percent
Inflation: about 5 percent
Source: Bay Area News Group salary data analysis; state Employment Development Department.