Another View: Leave transit workers’ pensions alone

Have you ever been beaten with a lead pipe or had bodily fluids thrown in your face at work? California bus drivers are assaulted like that on a regular basis. Have you ever been asked to safely steer a 40,000-pound vehicle through traffic? Transit workers do that every day.

It’s not an easy job. Most buses are ergonomic nightmares that inflict back, neck and shoulder pain on operators. Drivers go for hours without bathroom breaks because their computerized schedules don’t allow enough time. Since shifts either start around 5 a.m. or end around 7 p.m., sleeping disorders are common. Within a five-year period, 1 out of 4 city bus drivers will leave the job. Forty-five percent of drivers retire early due to a disability. Only 1 out of 9 reaches regular retirement age.

Gov. Jerry Brown, trying to address California’s pension fund shortage, lumped all public workers together to ensure that new employees contribute more and receive less in retirement benefits. But California transit workers – whose pensions are well funded – should never have been included.

Federal law has protected the collective bargaining rights of these much-abused workers for more than 50 years. Now, the U.S. Department of Labor is enforcing the long-standing statute that protects workers who are employed by transit systems that benefit from federal funds.

We should be praising the Obama administration and demanding that all workers receive such protection, not criticizing the action as did a recent Sacramento Bee editorial (“Feds should back off, let state trim pension costs,” March 6).

Gov. Brown violated federal law when he included transit workers in his plan to reduce the income of California’s public retirees. Now, the state wants to change the rules of the game. That’s like telling the Sacramento Kings that fouls will now be called by the opposing team, rather than the referees.

Of course, this is no game. California is forcing workers to retire in poverty and giving the savings to billionaires in the form of tax credits. Meanwhile, taxpayers take on the growing burden of providing public assistance to the victims of income inequality.

The transit systems that bus drivers operate and passengers rely on will get their federal funds no matter the result of the current litigation. For now, however, it is in everyone’s best interests to stand up for those who have routinely gone above and beyond the call in their years as public servants.

Larry Hanley is international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

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