What are striking BART workers thinking?

They're already the top-paid transit system employees in the region and among the best in the nation. They have free pensions, health care coverage for the entire family for just $92 a month and the same sweet medical insurance deal when they retire after just five years on the job.

They work only 37½ hours a week. They can call in sick during the workweek and then volunteer for overtime shifts on their days off. The rules exacerbate out-of-control overtime that in 2012 added an average 19 percent to base pay for station agents and 33 percent for train operators.

BART employees picket at Market and Montgomery streets above a downtown San Francisco BART station July 1, 2013, the first day of a BART strike
BART employees picket at Market and Montgomery streets above a downtown San Francisco BART station July 1, 2013, the first day of a BART strike

Meanwhile, BART faces a $142 million operating shortfall over the next 10 years. It already owes a $636 million debt for employees' pension and retiree health care benefits. Aging train cars and the train control system must be replaced. And BART faces billions of dollars of deferred maintenance and repairs.

There is no extra money. Indeed, future tax increase requests are planned in the district, and even though Santa Clara County will not be part of that district -- the local line will be run on a contract basis -- the challenges will affect everyone who uses the system. Every dollar that BART raises salaries must come from somewhere, either more taxes, fare increases or more debt that will be pushed onto future generations.

It's against this backdrop that workers demanded 23 percent salary increases over the next four years. Their thinking is completely divorced from reality.

They complain that they have gone without raises for several years. So have many Bay Area workers, including many of the taxpayers and riders who pay BART salaries. And at the risk of repetition -- they are still among the best-compensated for the jobs they perform.

As to union claims that this is all about safety-- how stupid do they think the public is?

It's time to get real. And local labor-backed politicians need to butt out.

We've been here before. We know how things work out when legislators and members of Congress stick their noses in where they don't belong. Their pressure led to the unaffordable deals that helped get us into this mess. Neither the BART board nor the region can afford to allow that to happen again.

The strike is miserable for commuters. Our reporters out there with them trying to navigate the clogged streets and highways in this sweltering heat. We know exactly how difficult and frustrating it is.

But let's be patient. It's a matter of pay now or pay more later.

If BART directors fail to rein in costs -- that is, if they cave -- the region will face higher fares and taxes while service deteriorates.

It's been 16 years since the last BART strike. Given the unreasonable labor demands, this one was inevitable. The alternative was a financial train wreck that could cripple the system for decades to come. BART trustees were right to hold their ground and need to keep it up.