A column by Tom Barnidge about labor negotiations for Contra Costa County employees misspelled the name of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21 spokesman Sean Aten.
Of all the preposterous statements made during the will-it-ever-end BART labor impasse, first prize goes to Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, in describing her management counterparts:
"These people have no concern for the riding public, and we are appalled at that. It's important for us that the public understand that we are being pushed into a position of striking."
She and her colleagues were being "pushed" at that point with a contract offer that guaranteed a pay increase of 12 percent over four years, monthly health insurance payments limited to $132 and pension contributions beginning at 1 percent and gradually rising to 4. (Those who participate in Social Security cough up 6 percent of every paycheck.)
If contract terms like those are the product of coercion, somebody please twist my arm.
Of course, just because you, I and 95 percent of the work force don't have such a sweet deal doesn't mean we should begrudge it to BART workers. That's the argument I've heard from labor sympathizers.
A gaping hole in this argument is that you, I and 95 percent of the work force will be paying for the benefits bestowed on BART employees through increased fares and taxes. These aren't downtrodden assembly line workers angling for a share of corporate profits. These are public employees demanding the public pay more for their services.
The same silly saps who contribute 6 percent toward Social Security are supposed to make it possible for BART workers to pay a fraction of that for a much better retirement plan.
Another bit of mangled logic cited during negotiations, and it was repeated by several labor representatives, is that BART can afford to be generous because it made a "surplus" last year. "Surplus" refers only to fare revenues in excess of expectations; it does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean the transit agency turned a profit.
BART isn't remotely self-supporting. More than 30 percent of its operating revenue comes from government subsidies -- sales taxes, property taxes, state transit assistance and federal funds. If you want to know who pays for those subsidies, look in the mirror.
Another consideration that largely escaped attention during negotiations is the long-term capital funding BART desperately needs to update its system. Its cars are older than most of its passengers. Every dollar spent on payroll is one that can't be spent on system overhaul.
Collective bargaining with public employees is a fact of life, and it's not in itself a bad thing. But the process this time couldn't have played out more poorly, from a 4½-day shutdown to strike deadlines to day-to-day-to-day extensions. Commuters have been hung out to dry. And Johnny-come-lately state legislators contributed to the process only if you count hot air.
The common-sense solution to avoiding a rerun of this mess is for the state to ban transit strikes and subject both sides to binding arbitration, as is done in many other cities across the country. That would eliminate the public posturing and, more important, service interruptions.
I've heard the arguments against. Management will lose its power to control costs if arbitrators take over. Labor contracts will be too lavish.
If you think management controlled costs this time, you've taken up residence in the same alternate reality where Antonette Bryant lives.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.