Facing the loss of 115 jobs and the threat of no raises over the next four years, BART workers Wednesday took to the stations to marshal rider support before they head back to the negotiating table.
“We can’t afford to lose any more workers,” said June, a station agent working at the Ashby BART Station. Noting that BART has proposed laying off 28 part-time agents this year on top of past cuts, she said, agents are increasingly unable to adequately serve riders. “It’s horrible. A lot of booths go unstaffed every day.”
To help close a $53 million deficit, BART is considering a series of measures which would cut staff and raise fees. While proposals to increase ticket prices by 15 cents and charge up to $5 for parking have grabbed most of the headlines, employees argued that the loss of 115 jobs, about half of which are vacant, will make BART dirtier and less safe.
“When you cut staff, but add new stations, things start slipping through the cracks,” said Bud Brandenberger, vice president of the BART chapter of SEIU Local 790, which represents custodial and maintenance workers.
Mark Raudelunas, a mechanic said previous cutbacks had BART vehicles waiting for repairs. “We can’t repair all the equipment that’s breaking down now,” he said. “There’s a huge backlog.”
BART Chief Spokesperson Linton Johnson countered that the proposed layoffs would not make conditions at BART less safe and that the transit agency was not cutting any police officer positions.
Joining SEIU in handing out fliers at BART stations Wednesday were members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents station agents and train operators. Officials from the two unions—BART’s largest—said they will endure the majority of this year’s proposed layoffs and have suffered the bulk of the 412 job cuts BART has made over the past three years.
BART’s deficit stems mainly from falling revenues and increasing costs, according to General Manager Tom Margro. While sales tax revenues and ridership (BART’s two sources of income) have dropped over the past five years, employee salaries and benefits have increased. The system currently serves an average of 310,00 riders every weekday, down from 335,000 in 2001.
To control employee costs, BART has offered SEIU and ATU four-year contracts with no raises, higher health care contributions and a clause requiring that workers pay their own pension contributions, union officials said. The unions’ current contracts, which expire June 30, gave them 22 percent raises over four years. Despite being far apart at the negotiating table, union leaders said they didn’t plan to strike.
Brandenberger called on BART to save money by cutting management positions and capital improvement projects. Johnson responded that of the 115 jobs on the chopping block, 23 belonged to non-union employees. He said that union jobs accounted for 80 percent of the proposed cuts while union workers were 91 percent of the workforce.
“Managers are taking the hardest hit,” Johnson said.
With fewer station agents and custodial staff, BART has lowered its standards for station cleanliness, Johnson said. He added that the agency’s policy was to make sure there was one station agent at every station, but not at every booth at stations that have more than one station agent booth.
Even if the BART Board of Directors approves the job cuts and fee hikes before the July 1 deadline for passing next year’s budget, BART will still be $30 million in debt, Johnson said. On Thursday, the BART Board is scheduled to consider proposals to raise fees and charge for parking at stations throughout the system in Berkeley and Oakland.
Johnson said that to increase revenue BART has studied putting ads on tickets and parking lots and installing televisions with paid programming in stations and trains.
Asked about the union flier she had just received, BART rider Sandra Rowland of Lafayette said she sided with the workers.
“I’ve been on a BART train that was stranded in the middle of the Caldecott BART tunnel,” she said. “I know we need to worry about safety factors.”