Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Union Killing Jobs

The San Francisco Examiner carried an article this morning about the budget problems for two of the Bay Area's largest mass transit agencies, BART and Muni. Not surprisingly, the agencies are burdened with bloated union contracts that make their unskilled workers very highly paid even while shielding those workers from too much actual work.

Two union rules are especially dumb. One restricts the number of BART's track maintenance workers who can be brought in on weekends to no more than 50 percent. Because the lines are so busy during the week, though, and trains run from 4 a.m. until 1 a.m., that leaves only three hours each weekday for actual track maintenance and many hours of idle time. The weekends, with less traffic and shorter operating hours, are a more suitable time to perform maintenance, so BART pays dearly to hire additional workers at overtime rates to come in and do it.

The other really dumb union rule involves forced regression from paperless pay stubs to old fashioned paper ones. The union actually filed a grievance when BART tried to implement a paperless system that would have saved two cents per employee pay stub, not to mention reducing paper and ink waste and preserving carbon-dioxide ingesting trees. The union's stubborn pig-headedness in this case isn't costing the agency much money -- just $64 per pay period based on BART's 3,200-employee workforce. But it is adding a silly cost, and it's out of step with contemporary technology and environmental mores in the Bay Area.

But that's what unions do these days -- add costs without adding value and subvert innovation and efficiency. In this time of local budget cuts, job losses and global recession, it's hard to feel much sympathy for unionized workers who seem intent on killing the goose laying all the golden eggs.