Ah, BART. Never a dull moment.

If only its unions and management could learn the virtues of unity and cooperation that our elected officials in Washington have so magnanimously exhibited (hmmm …).

Well, it’s happened again. At the stroke of midnight, following a breakdown in negotiations, unionized BART workers went on strike, grinding the entire rail network to a disgruntled halt just in time for the Friday morning commute.

Deja vu? If only.

This marks the second walk-out in less than four months, the latest chapter in a long-running battle over a fiercely contested labor contract.

Unions representing BART workers are lobbying for their first pay raise since the last contract four years ago. BART management, meanwhile, wants workers to contribute to their pensions (currently they don’t contribute anything) and to pay more for health care coverage (workers now pay a flat-rate of $92, regardless of how many dependents). Negotiators claimed to have reached consensus on pay and benefits by Thursday night, but talks broke down over last-minute workplace rules proposed by management, according to a spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union.

The five-day strike in July, which hobbled transportation throughout the Bay Area, came about after negotiators failed to reach an agreement before the expiration of the old contract. Trains started running again only after Governor Jerry Brown ordered a 60-day cooling off period.

How long this strike might last? It’s anyone’s guess.

According to recent polls, residents in the generally labor-friendly Bay Area have shown an overall lack of public support for the demands of BART employees. The dearth in sympathy stems, in part, from the fact that average annual gross pay among BART union workers is — at $76,551 — is not only higher than that of any other major transportation agency in the state, but also tops the average salaries of any other public agency in the Bay Area (transportation or otherwise), according to the San Jose Mercury News’ public employee salaries database.

The charts below use the Merc’s data to compare average gross pay across agencies. The figures include the salaries of both management and union workers, which, as some readers have insightfully noted, are somewhat deceiving in that they don’t give an accurate representation of what unionized workers (isolated from management) actually make. This data are available in the Merc’s database, but would need to be parsed per individual agency, which I have not done in these charts except for BART.

The charts are intended to place the salary data in a context. Take a look — hopefully it’ll help pass the time if you happen to find yourself sitting in some nasty traffic.

  • Palo Jon

    Everyone is always like Johnny Rocco in Key Largo: ” Yeah. That’s it. More. That’s right! I want more!”

  • jodo77

    this information is useless since it lumps together management and labor salaries. it’s the disparity between the two that matters. if BART managers are making a disproportionate amount of money, then i can make an argument for supporting the union; if management salaries are low relative to other transit agencies, then that’s an argument against the union. how about more meaningful info, please?

    • fikus222

      If entry level janitors gross $50k, than upper management grossing $300k isn’t all that absurd.

    • Brian

      The first chart has a footnote separating executive pay from union member pay. BART would still top the chart (even as the other entries on the chart continued to include executive pay) with $76,551 instead of $83,157.

      • Animalia

        Executives does not equal managers.

        • SkippyFlipjack

          it separates union/non-union which is generally worker/management.

    • SkippyFlipjack

      If you go to this page: you can sort by base salary and see who’s making the big bucks; blue dots are non-union, so are generally managers, especially the ones at the top of the chart. Doesn’t give you average salary but the data is available if you dig for it.

  • Animalia

    I don’t know the particulars, but I say good for BART employees for earning what most Americans (especially living in the expensive Bay Area) should be earning. The reason for the demise of the middle class is the demise of the Union.

    • Larry Mullins

      You are 100% correct.

  • $75k will not house, feed and clothe a family in this ridiculously expensive city. With these salaries they would qualify for below-market-rate housing ( which is based on median area income).

    • lrt

      Why should someone who is uneducated, likely has no degree and works in the transportation industry have to make a salary that would afford them and their family the privilege of living in a world-class city? That’s what Oakland is there for – which happens to be where I live by the way.

      • lrt

        Oh, and by the way, this link :
        has the salaries of every single bart employee by name, position and exact salary. I see train operators making well over 100K, which I would assume can in fact house, clothe and feed a family, even in SF. So if even with those conditions they can wake up in the morning knowing they are leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded that depend on the services that they provide, I have no sympathy for them. I believe they are well compensated for the unskilled jobs they have, and they should understand they live in a society for which they play a crucial role in. If burger flippers at macdonalds want to go on strike, I don’t care. But mass transportation agents? That’s just selfish.

      • SkippyFlipjack

        the whole bay area is expensive

      • HAHAHA omg dude have you shopped for real estate in oakland lately? it is at SF rates!

        • lrt

          Yeah, I have. And it is not anywhere near SF rates. My rent went down from 2300 for a 1br with hardwood floors in the TenderNob to 1400 for a similar apt on the border of temescal and west Oakland.

    • ConcernedCitizen

      you’re assuming that BART employees all live in SF. Remember the phrase about assumption…it makes an …. out of you…….

  • chrisnfolsom

    We do need a better breakdown – how am I to make a decision as I have no idea – do they have many too highly paid manager/executives, or too many very highly paid operators and a very efficient manager/executive pool – and the difference between managers and executive – these numbers cannot be used to make a decisions although they make a good chart – and yes, if you don’t live in the Bay Area, or California theses numbers look absurd – good numbers for the anti Union people to use… without some context they mean nothing – besides even knowing if they are correct in the first place.

  • nooneinparticular

    Why did you have to use such an ugly and pointless perversion of a bar chart? The silly triangle bars actually detract from the information.

  • Kitteh

    How do you measure the “average?” Is BART management a part of the average? Is this a median or a mean? Lots of funny math can be done with averages.

  • Travis Ames

    There’s a lot of interesting data here to fuel your own judgments about BART employee compensations:

    • SkippyFlipjack

      When people look at that chart they should change the dropdown from “Total cost of employee” to one of the salary options, to have an apples-to-apples comparison of salary data. The default includes employer contributions to healthcare and other benefits, which is generally not included in salary numbers.

  • Kat

    Where’s the chart showing the disparity between what management makes vs. what bart workers make? Then, how about a comparison of the disparity of wealth on average in this country between managers and employees? That seems like a more worthwhile set of data to share, considering we now live in a time with the highest disparity in wealth ever in documented history.

    Why shouldn’t Bart workers make a solid wage with good benefits? They certainly serve an important duty in our community.

  • callinit

    please. I make half of this, and if I went on strike I’d be fired friggin pronto (I’d use more colorful language if I knew the limits of comments rules here). At an average of some $70,000 (it’s not that much lower for non-management), I have a hard time drumming up any sympathy for these union workers who are demanding a pay raise in the midst of a recession. NFW.

    • callinit

      check that– non management makes an average of 76.5K/year?! Get the f*** out of here. Come negotiate a pay raise when you’re service is worth that. Public transport is extremely valuable, but this is thievery.

  • Klaus

    As a teacher with a masters degree, I would like to have this pay…..and I’m in a union.


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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