Celebrating independence, embracing wage slavery

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America, fuck yeah!

On the eve of Independence Day, too many San Franciscans seem eager to give up on the very idea of independence, instead willingly buying into the divide and conquer strategies of those who seek to control and exploit us. Just consider the big news of the day.

On Day Three of the BART strike, mainstream and social media are once again awash with angry anti-union diatribes by people who are resentful of the fact that some workers in this society still manage to earn the pensions and decent salaries that most of us wage slaves are being denied.

Pensions are the one thing that allows the working class some degree of independence during its twilight years. And the average BART salary of $72,000 annually shouldn’t be considered excessive in an expensive city that will chew up at least a third of that in housing costs.

But they are each more than most of us are getting, so it’s easy to turn many people against their fellow workers, even though the real targets of our ire should be the bosses and economic system that are denying us our independence and the means to pursue our happiness.

It’s a similar story with the breaking news of the day: City College of San Francisco losing its accreditation and being turned over to state control. While there are some reasons to criticize how this important institution has been managed over the years, it was still being managed by locally elected trustees who made the best decisions they could under bad circumstances.

They made decisions to maintain a broad-based curriculum that this community wanted and needed, and to avoid exploiting the faculty like so many other educational institutions are doing, in the process taking a gamble with lower reserves than may be needed. And the voters of San Francisco stepped up to support CCSF with a parcel tax that was helping to ease it away from the brink, acting as a proud and independent community does during troubled times.

But a commission of unelected bureaucrats on a ideological mission to transform educational institutions into something less than the broad-based community resources that CCSF has strived to be decided to make an example of San Francisco. And they did so with the full support of Mayor Ed Lee, who issued a statement today criticizing local officials for not embracing even harsher austerity measures than they did, and saying “I fully support” the state takeover.

Lee’s hand-picked panel recommending reforms of the Housing Authority is also proposing to sacrifice the independence of poor San Franciscans in favor of ever-more subsidies to real estate developers, according to a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

Among the “reforms” is a proposal to divert federal money from the Section 8 program that offers rent-subsidies to the poor, as Chron reporter John Cote described like this: “A terribly run program that provides low-income residents with vouchers for private housing would be administered by the city, rather than the federally funded public housing agency. The vouchers would be prioritized for certain affordable housing projects, creating dedicated revenue to help secure loans to build them.”

So the vouchers that allow low-income people some independence -- rather than living in squalid, chronically mismanaged public housing projects in San Francisco -- will instead subsidize development projects. Yes, we do need to subsidize affordable housing development, which this city is underfunding, but we shouldn’t be taking the meager resources of society’s least fortunate families to do so.  

I have no doubts that Lee will jump at this suggestion (although its unlikely to be so eagerly embraced by federal regulators at HUD) given his penchant for shady real estate schemes that line the pockets of the powerful, like the one that the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered this week.

CIR reported that the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Center -- a for-profit company connected to Willie Brown that is arranging immigration visas for Chinese nationals who invest in Lennar’s Hunters Point housing development -- is getting key help from Lee and members of his staff.

This project was already looking like a bait-and-switch scam, as we also reported this week, with Lennar being guaranteed profits without even putting up its own money, thanks to Lee’s willingness to use the power of his office to solicit funds on behalf of the country’s biggest residential developer.

If Lennar wasn’t going to build the affordable housing we need on the front end, or put up the money itself, why didn’t the city just administer this project and give the work to local contractors? What exactly is this Florida-based corporation doing in exchange for being handed some of the most valuable real estate in the city, except for helping its powerful local friends who pulled strings on its behalf?

What’s motivating Lee these days? Well, considering that Brown and other power brokers placed him in the Mayor’s Office after a career at City Hall doing their bidding -- a role he seems to be still playing today in his powerful new role -- I’d say it was a lack of independence.

It’s all pretty depressing, but at least we have a holiday tomorrow to celebrate our independence. Happy Fourth of July, comrades.  

Comments

"the divide and conquer strategies of those who seek to control and exploit us. Just consider the big news of the day....On Day Three of the BART strike...

Your implication, Steven, is that those of us who are siding against the union in this labor dispute are somehow beholden to the 1%-ers and are anti-union.

This is far from the truth. BART and other public employees, like the 1%-ers, are the only people left in the world who still have defined-benefit pension plans. They have very sweet salary deals that are piled high with add-ons: padded overtime, virtually free healthcare benefits, and pensions ever sweetened by politicians who are afraid to stand up to their prowess. The average BART train operator has a basic salary averaging $60,000, but she has up to $50,000 in additional benefits, bringing his annual wage package to around $110,000.

Just look at the data, and URL link, in the SFBG thread on this labor dispute below. The facts are all there.

These are not working-class individuals. They are upper-middle-class Americans. And I would applaud their nice salaries except for the fact that the pension obligations to them are so swollen that they are depressing public expenditures on some very important things: healthcare for the poor, school funding, road building, etc. and etc.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

If you actually cared about healthcare, education, and housing then you wouldn't be attacking the BART workers but those who control the BART and the economic/legal system that puts everyone in our situation....

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 9:06 am

The economic system (for public employees) has been designed in the favor of these workers. They have defined-benefit pension plans that GUARANTEE 8% returns on their pensions. The get pensions of up to $80,000 a year when they retire, as young as age 55.

They are wealthy retirees by almost any threshold.

Why are you defending them? They are not working-class.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

"the divide and conquer strategies of those who seek to control and exploit us. Just consider the big news of the day....On Day Three of the BART strike..."

Your implication, Steven, is that those of us who are siding against the union in this labor dispute are somehow beholden to the 1%-ers and are anti-union.

This is far from the truth. BART and other public employees, like the 1%-ers, are the only people left in the world who still have defined-benefit pension plans. They have very sweet salary deals that are piled high with add-ons: padded overtime, virtually free healthcare benefits, and pensions ever sweetened by politicians who are afraid to stand up to their prowess. The average BART train operator has a basic salary averaging $60,000, but she has up to $50,000 in additional benefits, bringing his annual wage package to around $110,000.

Just look at the data, and URL link, in the SFBG thread on this labor dispute below. The facts are all there.

These are not working-class individuals. They are upper-middle-class Americans. And I would applaud their nice salaries except for the fact that the pension obligations to them are so swollen that they are depressing public expenditures on some very important things: healthcare for the poor, school funding, road building, etc. and etc.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

Wages are wages and benefits are benefits. Nobody calculates their income that way but bosses calculate their costs that way.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 9:12 am

If the benefits are better then their wages should be lower, but they are.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 9:44 am

Supply side crap.

Posted by marcos on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 9:52 am

"Wages are wages and benefits are benefits. Nobody calculates their income that way but bosses calculate their costs that way."

Translation: Marcos has a sweet, sweet benefits package, and he doesn't want anyone looking too closely at it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 10:32 am

Most people with "real jobs" have "sweet benefit packages," the likes of which were once taken for granted.

People like their benefit packages. Benefit packages are a good thing. BART more than pays its freight to cover those costs. I'll take well compensated and valued train operators over the least expensive, most expendable to whisk me under the bay at 80MPH, thanks.

Posted by anon on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 11:12 am

"Most people with "real jobs" have "sweet benefit packages," "

No they do not. Most people have defined-contribution benefit plans (401-K) that pay only the money that they generate.

Public employees and Corporate CEOs are the only people left with defined-benefit pension plans. BART employees are guaranteed 8% annual returns on their pensions. And they pay $0 money into the costs (the public covers all the costs for them).

This is the reason that public-sector pensions are hugely underfunded.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

If it is good enough for corporate CEOs, it is good enough for all of us!

Posted by anon on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

Yes, everyone should have a giant pension plan that costs that taxpayers a lot of money.

And we should all climb on our unicorns and sail off into the sunset.

Posted by Anony on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

The economy can afford to give everyone a decent, dignified retirement, $20-50K depending on where you live.

Posted by anon on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

Agreed. But BART employees retire on pensions that pay the 80K a year.

And, again, I would be find with that, except that the huge underfunded obligations mean that money that could be spend on helping the poor, on helping students, on paving roads, on libraries etc....

...must be spend on these pension obligations instead

Posted by Anony on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

California- where do you think the money comes from??...money for excessive public employee compensation comes from 1) regressive taxation and 2) debt that is being dumped on the heads of the next generation.

The public has been asleep on pensions.

Two elected public OFFICIALs, TWO in the entire Bay Area have stuck their necks out on this - Adachi and Chuck Reed.

And the public has been complete idiots on this, swallowing the union's bullshit whole while our infrastructure crumbles.

Maybe with this BART strike and CCSF a few more people - will wake the fuck up...who knows?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

easily move themselves and their assets to a low-tax jurisdiction.

So those pensions will be paid for either by higher tax on the middle classes or by drastic cuts in public services. Take your pick.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2013 @ 5:40 am
Posted by Glest on Jul. 06, 2013 @ 7:32 am

Imagining a convoy of mansions, luxury condos and office buildings moving across the Bay Bridge to a low tax jurisdiction with a view of a brick wall...almost like an economic rapture!

Posted by anon on Jul. 06, 2013 @ 7:56 am
Posted by anon on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 6:12 pm

THIS FROM YOUR SISTER SF EXAMINER TODAY:
""Most of the union workers on strike make less than the average, said station agent Guillermo Ruiz, who was among the ATU Local 1555 workers picketing outside the 19th Street BART station Tuesday evening.""

Here's Gullermo's salary breakdown according to the SJ Mercury database on public-sector worker salaries:

Guillermo Ruiz, Station Agent
Base salary $62,739
Overtime: $533
Other (mostly sick leave pay): $533
Medical and dental coverage: $20,183
Employer contribution to pension: $8,221
Employee pension contribution paid by employer: $4,853
Employer contribution to deferred compensation: $1,869
Non-cash costs paid by employer: $1,877
TOTAL ANNUAL SALARY: 107,561

Guillermo's upper-middle-class! Wish I had such a nice pension plus $20,000 worth of healthcare each year for $92 per month!!

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

""Employee pension contribution paid by employer: $4,853""

What's that, you wonder?

In the 2009 labor agreement, BART management agreed to pay the part of the pension contribution that is supposed to be paid by the workers.

BART employees pay 0% of their pension costs.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

individual independence in America is shrinking.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

To restore independence, Steven suggests more government programs and higher taxes. Well done!

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 5:28 am

For me this day is really important! We should celebrate it in the proper way!

Posted by Yachtcharter Oceanis 34 on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 12:52 am

"The vouchers would be prioritized for certain affordable housing projects, creating dedicated revenue to help secure loans to build them.”

Section 8 dollars should be used to build Community Land Trust housing instead of going to line the pockets of private landlords.

Posted by anon on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

Unions are the one percent and screw us the 99%.

Posted by Guest Nicolas on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

It would seem odd then that as labor unions have declined in number and power in the US, wealth and income inequality have increased.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 10:38 am

At this point, siding with the BART unions is sorta like siding with... I don't know, a bag of cat shit? Phillip Garrido? Rod Blagojevich?

BASICALLY ANYTHING THAT SUCKS?

Like, dead serious - why do you love to fail? It's like you have a knack for it.

AirBnB, Lyft, Uber, Pride Festival, Domestic Violence Advocates: Bad
BART Unions, the homeless, Yellow Cab, Mirkarimi: Good

** YOU FUCKING SUCK ** lol...

You guys have been getting your dick kicked in here, in real time! Dude, I am watching your paper and your scene fall apart, and I'm loving it. Bruce (sold out), Sarah (fired), Tim (resigned), Johnny (chased down and run away), you.... just the last punching bag.

This is not your City anymore. And it never will be again. Congrats on the '00-'02 run, but you fucked that up beyond belief. Perhaps Oakland or Portland want to hear your stupid shit?

Posted by Scram on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 9:41 pm

The nation cannot afford free pensions for everyone. Nor can we afford DB pensions any more.

Workers now have far more independence from unions and employer pensions, and that really is something to celebrate.

With BART and CCSF, can you really not see which way the wind is blowing here? We the people are sick of these sweetheart union deals in the public sector and we're not going to take it any more.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

for decent wages, benefits and retirement. It is being misspent on war, and profits for the wealthiest hoarders.

Oh, to be a cheerleader for one's economic betters. What dementia.

Celebrate independence from a decent retirement? No thanks. I'd rather fight for decent wages, socialized healthcare and a living retirement for all workers.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 10:39 am

""Oh, to be a cheerleader for one's economic betters. What dementia.""

Why are you defending rich people? Why are you defending the 1%-ers.

Posted by Anony on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

work for them.

That's the entire problem here. "Fighting" for higher pay and benefits simply means trying to get others to pay for them, when you should be working to pay for them yourself.

AKA an entitlement culture.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 05, 2013 @ 5:42 am

Get lost, loser troll. Does rich dick taste better?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2013 @ 12:10 am

Translation: unless you are an employer, shut the fuck up.

Posted by anon on Jul. 07, 2013 @ 7:38 am

Statements can be verified by researching the internet, folks now have a way of checking what is a lie and what is not, the two BART unions that are on strike are causing hardships on the working class of the Bay Area with their GREED, per the Public Employees Salaries database these union members receive yearly $ wise more than most Bay Area workers.
If this strike goes on and on Gov Brown needs to deregulate these two unions for the sake of the Bay Area and its workers.

Posted by ENOUGH on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 11:16 am

Source Sfgate 7/4

Hey Unions,

Just justify the below, which is typical and you will win the hearts and souls of the public hands down!

Actual Examples of BART Station Agent Salaries and Job Description

Olivia Spicer - $175K (head station agent for A-line)
Christin Nicholas -$153K
Maria Burrell - $149K
Raymond Chueh - $149K
Chris Manalo -$159K
(The list is deep)

Really?

According to the public job description and salary information, the job only requires a high school diploma and 2-3 years of public facing customer service.

In 2012 she made $159K, AS IN $159,000 for a job that requires a GED/HS Diploma and three years of working at a 7-11.

Fair? Equitable? ROFL LMFAO (laughing so hard I can't type)

Source for salary:

http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area

Posted by Greed on Jul. 04, 2013 @ 11:58 am

A vast amount of wealth is now concentrated at the top of this society, staggering amounts in the hands of a very few people. They got that money by underpaying their employees, private sector and public sector. I say support BART workers in winning a decent standard of living, force the rich to pay their fair share of taxes as we began to do with Proposition 30, and let's reorganize the private sector so that all can have good benefits.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 06, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

This is only a "decent standard of living"

Olivia Spicer - $175K (head station agent for A-line)
Christin Nicholas -$153K
Maria Burrell - $149K
Raymond Chueh - $149K
Chris Manalo -$159K
(The list is deep)

These are upper-middle-class people. In the top 10% of American wage-earners.

They don't need a raise, especially considering that their pension funds are underfunded by billions of dollars.

Posted by Anony on Jul. 06, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

Median compensation for BART employees = $117,500. 1,750 make that much or more. That number includes part time employees, and employess who worked part of the year

Posted by Richmondman on Jul. 07, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

Median BART compensation is in the $70-80K per year with overtime and benefits on top of that.

Posted by anon on Jul. 07, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

You are wrong.

Here's a list of BART employees making around 60K in base pay that shows what they actually make:

Nancy Brown, Station Agent
Base salary $58,635
Overtime: $9,611
Other (mostly lump-sum for vacation not used): $5,563
Medical and dental coverage: $23,364?????
Employer contribution to pension: $7,402
Employee pension contribution paid by employer: $4,370
Employer contribution to deferred compensation: $1,869
Non-cash costs paid by employer: $1,864
TOTAL ANNUAL SALARY: 112,767

Damon Amey
Base salary $62,071
Overtime: $9,641
Other (mostly sick leave pay): $3,106
Medical and dental coverage: $20,183?????
Employer contribution to pension: $7,625
Employee pension contribution paid by employer: $4,501
Employer contribution to deferred compensation: $1,869
Non-cash costs paid by employer: $1,877
TOTAL ANNUAL SALARY: 110,874

Antonette Bryant, station agent
Base salary $107,161
Overtime: $0
Other (mostly sick leave pay): $1,500
Medical and dental coverage: $12,031
Employer contribution to pension: $12,866
Employee pension contribution paid by employer: $7,606
Employer contribution to deferred compensation: $1,869
Non-cash costs paid by employer: $2,463
TOTAL ANNUAL SALARY: $145,517

Guillermo Ruiz, Station Agent
Base salary $62,739
Overtime: $533
Other (mostly sick leave pay): $533
Medical and dental coverage: $20,183
Employer contribution to pension: $8,221
Employee pension contribution paid by employer: $4,853
Employer contribution to deferred compensation: $1,869
Non-cash costs paid by employer: $1,877
TOTAL ANNUAL SALARY: 107,561

BART employees have golden deferred-benefit pension plans waiting down the road (getting COMPOUNDED guaranteed 8% returns that will pay them $80,000 year on average upon retirement).

They get $20,000 in health benefits annually while paying $92 a month for health insurance (a sweet deal!).

They get $9,000 a year in overtime on average, while taking 20 sick days a year. They get overtime pay at 1.5x our salaries.

They can retire as young as 55 with full pension schemes.

They get full health benefits for life after working for a company for as little as five years. The average wage is about 65K, but it rises to 110k after adding all the benefits.

Posted by Anony on Jul. 07, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

I've had a few jobs where I paid a small fee for health insurance. I didn't know the exact dollar worth of those coverages but I know I didn't take that money home with me. It was nice to have but I never considered it as part of my earnings.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2013 @ 10:33 am

It includes ALL benefits AND unfunded liabilities including pension at a
realistic 5.5 % return.

A good way to hide public employee compensation is just borrow into the future against taxpayers. Reason there is so little outrage is media doesn't explain these debts.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

Nonsense, salary is salary, benefits are benefits.

They are accounted for independently.

Posted by anon on Jul. 07, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

No, that's not correct. You're kind of comparing apples to oranges, since median compensation is determined by actual, current expenses, while unfunded liabilities are an actuarial estimate that includes both employees and retirees. What you really want to look at is annual general or operating fund contribution, and even then you should prorate for current employee share.

Also, governmental budgets typically include the cost of those fund contributions within the salaries and benefits line items, so I don't really agree that they're "hiding" anything.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 08, 2013 @ 12:00 am

BART station agents take 40 unscheduled absences on average each year. That means about one day off for every six days worked, and it’s on top of the 13 paid holidays and up to six weeks of vacation that workers also receive every year.

It’s 14 more absentee days than San Francisco’s Muni drivers average, according to city records.

Besides 12 paid sick days apiece, workers may be out for jury duty, family medical leave, disability or industrial injury. -From Matier & Ross today

Posted by Anony on Jul. 08, 2013 @ 7:48 am

I haven't turned to this site since Tim got sacked, but curiosity got the better of me. I see that you and Rebecca are still here, and still doing a stellar job. The destruction of community assets (CCSF, public housing) should worry everyone who genuinely cares about their community. And may be best exemplified by the growing monopoly over the bay area newspaper trade by folks like Todd Vogt and his ilk. I don't imagine that you'll be writing this corporate rag for very long, but I'm glad you're are still here.

Posted by Ana on Jul. 08, 2013 @ 9:53 am

1. Go to: http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area
2. Under "Entity", chose "Bay Area Rapid Transit"
3. Click "search"
4. Page 1 of 138 will appear.
5. In the "Page" box, type 69, and click enter. Now a page w/the median annual salary of BART employees will appear.

The median salary is $117,626. This includes $74,000 in base pay, approximately $9,000 in overtime pay, around $6,000 in lump sum payments for unused sick/vacation/comp time [Other], around $10,000 in pension payments, and roughly $5,000 in other pension costs [EE] that legally are supposed to be paid by the employee himself but are covered by BART.
BART employees pay nothing into their own pensions. They get full health benefits for themselves and all dependents for $92 a month. And worst of all, they are on defined-benefit pension plans (just like rich people are) that GUARANTEE 8% annually compounded returns.

These salaries are very generous, and the pension costs are completely unsustainable.

Posted by Anony on Jul. 17, 2013 @ 9:39 am
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