By Erin Glanville
A Tale of Two Public Services BART vs. The Menlo Park Fire Protection District BoardUploaded: Oct 29, 2013
The BART trains have started rolling again as a tentative agreement has been reached, much to the relief of Bay Area commuters. But many people, including me, have been left reeling by what the strike uncovered about massive overtime spending enabled by "lucrative" work rules. A growing story of our time is public pension liabilities. Thanks to the strike, light has now also been shined on the dangers of excessive overtime pay. The results are appalling.
We all pay for BART through our California sales tax and bonds, bridge tolls, etc., so when the San Jose Mercury News did some outstanding reporting that included posting an online Public Employee Salary database for BART employees, there was general shock and public outrage at the frequent double and tripling of employee base salaries (which averaged $76,500) through overtime. How could that be? As it turns out, a 470 page "work rule book" negotiated by management and the unions had a number of work rules that enabled this massive paycheck-padding. For example, employees could take several sick days and then earn overtime for the rest of the week. Until it was exposed through the mediaonly because of the strike-- the public had no idea about the outrageous overtime payouts and the true total compensation cost per employee. It is important to note that BART management was just as egregious in their exploitation of the system. Witness Dorothy Dugger, the former BART GM, who was forced to retire two years ago yet was able to collect $330,000 in 2012 by extending her time on the payroll by running out the clock on her saved vacation vs. taking a lump sum, as any private sector employer would require. She did not break any laws, but she clearly exploited the system to the detriment of the taxpayer.
Lets now compare that with how overtime is treated closer to home with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board. First, lets consider how the District Board deals with overtime. An obvious first difference: according to the Memorandum of Understanding they operate under (section 2.3.2), Menlo Park firefighters are paid overtime only for the hours actually worked over and above their applicable FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act). So no sick or vacation time is counted towards accruing it. Seems obvious…. except to previous BART negotiators. More importantly, the District Board regularly reviews overtime figures as a discussion item at their monthly public meetings. They use overtime numbers as a barometer for staffing decisions. Too much overtime spending means they have not staffed enough. None means they are overstaffed. Overtime pay is not used as a free-for-all padding of salaries that goes unchecked until the next contract negotiation. It is used as a key performance indicator of how well management is utilizing resources. Lastly, those results are available for the world to see…. and comment on. Besides being reviewed monthly, in 2008, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District voted to enable the public to have a 15 day comment period on any collectively bargained labor agreement between the District and the union before that agreement could be acted upon. Note to BART: that is transparency. That is respecting the bill payers.
We are fortunate that we have financially responsible and transparent leadership with our local Fire Protection District Board. That is not a happy accidentit has only come about because members of previous boards and concerned citizens championed those ideals. A public (and media) assumption that the responsible thing is always happening is the first step towards abuse of any system. In the end, it takes diligence on the part of we, the taxpayers, to pay attention and make sure that public services are being run responsibly. We have two examples here that show a stark contrast as a result of our involvement and our neglect. For one, it is wisdom. For the other, it is foolishness.