Quick thought experiment: You're a janitor at a BART station, and not just any BART station, but the Powell Street BART station, a uniquely gross nexus of sadness and squalor. How much pay would you like for repeatedly working 17-hour days?
The question is pertinent given a report from news station KTVU that focuses on the salary of a BART employee with just that job whose $271,000 a year pay in a public service role raised plenty of eyebrows when it was first reported last November.
Drawing on records obtained by Transparent California, the East Bay Times wrote that the overtime pay for one BART employee, Liang Zhao Zhang, was $235,000 in 2015, or four times his base salary, netting him more than $270,000 a year including benefits.
It also wasn't the first lucrative year for Zhang, who had received $682,000 in pay and benefits for the past three years combined. And Zhang isn't alone, as other BART employees from police to mechanics make triple their salaries in overtime as CBS 5 observed last year.
“It would be great if all janitors were paid $200,000,” Transparent California Research Director Robert Fellner told the East Bay Times, “But I seriously doubt BART riders — who must pay for this excess — are ever afforded that opportunity.” In fact, of 474 janitors in the Oakland, San Jose, and Antioch school districts, only two made more than $100,000 in salary and benefits according to Transparent California.
Following up on Zhang specifically, KTVU's investigative unit "learned that BART has never conducted an extensive investigation of Zhang’s time cards," and decided to do so themselves. Training their camera on Zhang and gathering surveillance footage, they found that, on day one of their tracking, Zhang went into a storage closet "for 54 minutes and 90 minutes respectively." Then, on the second day of their report, "he spends 90 minutes in the closet in the afternoon, and another 78 minutes behind the door later that evening."
Zhang has worked 17-hour days for as many as 18 days in a row, and BART tells KTVU that he sometimes eats his lunch in the storage closet they focus on. BART allots 30 minutes for lunch for employees, time that most take in a separate area. KTVU also discovered that Zhang failed to clock in or out 16 times in one year.
And should we not fail to mention that multiple sections of Powell Street Station continually smell like a urinal 365 days of the year and it's this guy's job to keep it clean?
But Alicia Trost, a spokesperson for BART, clarified aspects of the story to the Business Times that may have been glossed over by KTVU. "There are a variety of reasons and work to be done in the storage room as well as in the janitor room that is connected by hallway inside," Trost explains. "The closet is not a closet as what the general public considers is a closet. It is a large storage room connected to another storage area that has a bathroom and an office. These rooms are connected internally," Trost said.
To KTVU, Trost also confirms that "there is no future audit being considering after KTVU’s investigation."