BART approves $8.9M payout to deal with workers’ comp claims

S.F. Examiner File PhotoThe decision to approve the 800 worker's comp claims was part of BART's operating budget wrap-up for the year

Nearly $9 million in operating funds was approved by BART on Thursday to help deal with workers’ compensation claims from 800 employees, a number that came as a surprise to several agency directors.

Rising health care costs, an increase in surgical operations necessary for injuries suffered at BART and a rapidly aging workforce are some of the reasons the transit agency has been forced to deal with $8.9 million in unexpected workers’ comp costs, said human resources manager Elaine Kurtz.

The funding allocation, which coincided with a separate $1 million investment for a new workers’ comp risk-management program, was authorized unanimously as part of a wrap-up to BART’s operating budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Several directors on BART’s board expressed incredulity that the agency was dealing with 800 open workers’ comp claims. Director Joel Keller pointed out that the district only employs 3,000 people total.

Kurtz countered that some of the workers’ comp claims date back 20 to 25 years, over which time the agency has employed many more than 3,000 people. Only 120 workers receiving the payouts currently work for BART. The $8.9 million would help close out past cases and ensure BART would be able to pay future compensation costs.

Director James Fang said he was “absolutely stunned” that so many of the agency’s employees, past and present, were collecting workers’ comp.

“I sure would like to have a better understanding of what we’re doing,” Fang said. “It seems like we’re funding a liability that should have been corrected.”

Along with approving the $8.9 million, BART agreed to spend $10.6 million in surplus funds from last year’s budget on various improvement projects. They include $1 million each for the risk-management program, pigeon abatement projects at BART sites and analysis of long-term infrastructure needs at the Powell Street station;  $4.7 million will also be spent on new flooring materials for train cars.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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