Not only did BART officials capitulate to end last month's four-day strike, they are now deceiving the public by understating the costs and exaggerating the benefits of the deal.

For two weeks, BART officials refused to disclose details. After union members voted to ratify, the district issued a summary interpretation but balked at releasing the contracts until transit directors formally approve them next week. Workers could see the contracts, but riders and taxpayers footing the bill could not.

On Monday, we threatened litigation. That's when BART turned over the documents -- and when it became clear that the district's press release spin didn't match the contracts' reality.

Workers walk the picket line at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
Workers walk the picket line at the Lake Merritt BART station in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Take, for example, what the district calls "perhaps the most significant change agreed to by unions." It amends a decades-old contract provision that required union approval before BART managers could alter past work practices.

That provision has impeded attempts to improve technology, reduce paperwork and increase efficiencies. BART leaders made its elimination a top negotiation priority; they got an alteration instead. Nevertheless, they claim the new language will enable them to improve technology and switch equipment without union approval.

In fact, changes must still be negotiated with the unions. Unresolved disputes will be subjected to binding arbitration. And the arbitrator may provide relief, including "additional compensation."


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That means unions will demand, and likely receive, more money in exchange for modernization, thereby eroding cost-savings BART desperately needs.

BART officials cite the contract modification as a key reason for agreeing to the financial terms. But they also misrepresent the monetary aspects.

For starters, they claim employees, already some of the best paid transit workers in the nation, will net a 9.4 percent increase over the four-year contract. That counts salary increases offset by increased contributions to pensions and health care. In fact, the net benefit to workers is 11.7 percent.

Then BART says the deal will increase its costs a net $67 million over four years. It's actually more.

First, officials claim the deal will save $2.7 million due to retiree health care changes. New employees will now be required to work 15 years before vesting in the plan, rather than the current five years.

But most of the savings will materialize decades from now. Nevertheless, BART calculated the savings for 30 years and then credited half of that during just the next four years, thereby grossly inflating the contract savings. It's fictional accounting.

Second, BART claims it will save $5 million by encouraging employees with spouses who have health coverage to opt out of the transit district's insurance. Employees will be offered $350 a month to do so. The question is how many people will take the deal. BART estimates 150 employees will, but they really don't know.

Third, the district left a $16 million retirement item out of its accounting.

The transit system not only provides traditional pensions, it also funds retirement savings accounts similar to 401(k)s. The district currently contributes $1,869 per year. And until 1991 it also kicked in 1.627 percent of salary.

That latter contribution was suspended for 20 years in exchange for increasing workers' traditional pensions. In 2011, employees agreed to defer reinstatement for two more years. It finally began this fiscal year, coinciding with the start of the new contract.

The district maintains that, since employees were entitled to the reinstatement, it should not count as a cost in negotiations. That may be, but it should have been disclosed because it increases worker compensation this fiscal year.

By its logic, BART could claim a savings next time if workers merely agree during negotiations four years from now to continue their new health care contribution levels.

That's because the current deal, while requiring employees to pay $37 a month more, only imposes the increase for the four-year contract. Amazingly, while the new contract's salary increases are permanent, the offsetting health care concession is not.

BART officials neglect to mention that detail when trumpeting that employees will share more of their benefit costs.

It's bad enough that the district's leaders caved, but they should at least be honest about what they did.

Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or dborenstein@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/BorensteinDan.