EDITORIAL: BART managers must hold firm against union demands

The 60-day cooling-off period Gov. Jerry Brown ordered to bring a halt to the punishing BART strike ends Oct. 10. Unfortunately, both sides in the dispute say they are no closer to agreement. That's ominous.

A strike now would be extremely damaging. Summer vacations are over. Schools are in full swing. Ridership is up over 30% from July's strike period. BART, the backbone of the Bay Area transportation system, carries close to 400,000 riders a day. A service disruption would wreak havoc on the area's economy. Both sides know that. Still, BART management must not be bullied into giving away more than the district and riders can afford.

Management's latest offer is within reason. It calls for a four-year deal with 2.5% pay raises each year. For the first time, BART employees would be required to contribute to their very generous pension plan, 1% the first year, increased by another 1% in subsequent years to a top of 4% total employee pension contribution by the end of the contract. In addition, BART seeks to cap health care at the cheaper of its two most popular family plans.

The unions want a three-year deal with a 4.5% raise each year. They also have agreed to contribute to their pensions for the first time. But here's the bottom line: Management's offer amounts to $34 million in additional cost over four years; the unions are asking for $140 million over that same period -- too much.

BART is at a crossroads. The system is 40 years old and faces huge capital improvement costs. It needs to raise $6 billion to replace worn-out cars, construct a new train control system and upgrade and expand maintenance capacity. To finance those crucial fixes, BART riders will begin paying higher fares in January. The average fare will jump from $3.59 today to $4.25 in 2020.

Union leaders argue that they have not had a raise in four years. While that's true, they haven't faced the furloughs and layoffs that many of their fellow public employees have endured. Private-sector workers fared even worse. And BART workers are still among the most well-compensated transit employees in the nation.

BART managers simply cannot afford to give in to the union's unreasonable demands.