Cushy government pay, benefits nationwide (UNION EXTORTION)
The Daily Gazette, Schenectady NY | 12/20/05 | Carl Strock
 

The View From Here presents Carl Strockís personal commentary and appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Strock can be reached at 518-395-3085. The opinions of the newspaper appear in editorials on the Opinion Page every day. E-Mail: strok@dailygazette.com

You may think I have some kind of idiosyncratic hang-up about the salaries and benefits of teachers and cops, the way Iím always digging up examples of extravagance, like a $95,000 pension for a Rotterdam patrolman. If so, I refer you to the Autumn 2005 issue of City Journal, a policy-wonk magazine published by the conservative Manhattan Institute, which is available online at www.city-journal.org, allowing you to save yourself the $6.50 cover price, and specifically I refer you to the article entitled, "The Conspiracy Against the Taxpayers," which paints a larger and more complete picture of what I sketch only on a small local scale.

The article (click here) makes clear that the generous salaries and benefits of government employees are a function of effective organizing and lobbying on the part of public employee unions nationwide, as a result of which government workers are now well ahead of private workers nationwide.

Specifically City Journal reports that state and local government employees make 46 percent more, in salaries and benefits combined, than employees of private business. Further, local governments pay 128 percent more for health benefits and 162 percent more for pensions than private employers.

Some examples: In New Jersey a state retiree gets a 50 percent bigger pension than a retiree with the same salary and same number of years of employment at the Camden plant of Campbell Soup. Nationally, 60 percent of state and local government employees get dental insurance, compared with only 36 percent of private workers. Forty-three percent of local government employees get eyecare insurance, compared with just 22 of private workers.

Ninety-five percent of state and local government employees get paid sick leave, compared with just 58 percent of private workers. In New York City, low-level service workers are paid 94 percent more by government than by private employers. In a nutshell, government employment has become a very good deal compared with private employment, which might be fine except that all those wonderful salaries and benefits are paid for by people who in many cases donít have such goodies themselves.

The rest of us contribute to our health insurance, work till age 65, and otherwise scrimp, so that government employees donít have to. What I report from Schenectady and environs is typical. It is not an oddity that a local cop gets a pension worthy of a GE executive, or that a high school football coach makes $100,000 a year, or that a retiring superintendent gets a going-away present of $40,000 for sick days not taken, and so forth. In private business, things may go up or down, but in local government, they only go up.

Look at Troy, where right now City Hall is proposing to save money on police overtime. Its Police Department is top-heavy with two assistant chiefs and eight captains in addition to the chief. Those command officers, as theyíre called, have their own union, and one of the provisions of their contract is that one of them must be on duty at all times, which, if youíre alert to these things, translates into a lot of lucrative overtime. The city wants to remove that provision from the contract, and it also wants to remove the chief and the two assistant chiefs from the union, making them part of the city administration, which would mean they would no longer qualify for overtime. (Last year the three together were paid $35,867 for overtime.)

This of course makes good management sense, but you canít just impose it, you have to get the agreement of the employees who are affected. The proposal that the City Council will take up tonight is to give $7,000 raises to the chief, who already makes $85,206, and to the two assistant chiefs, to ease their pain, and also to the eight captains, just as sort of a sweetener.

Thatís how it works in local government. Anything that management wants, it has to pay for. Or look at New York City and the current standoff with bus and subway workers. Right now those workers are able to retire at age 55 after 25 years of work, with half pay. A swell deal, which I would love to have myself. What does the Metropolitan Transit Authority want? Retirement at age 62 after 30 years of work, which would still be a pretty good deal, as far as Iím concerned. But what does the union want? You wonít believe this: retirement at age 50 after just 20 years of work! This goes on all the time.

How has such a situation come about? No big secret. Government workers have organized into unions ó CSEA, PEF, NEA, NYSUT, etc. ó and with their collective wealth and numbers they are able to influence our governing bodies right down to local school boards. Big campaign contributions, big lobbying efforts, big volunteer armies to work on elections ó "using their influence to inflate pay and benefits for their workers," in the words of City Journal, out of the pocketbooks of the rest of us, of course. (I hope you realize why your school taxes are so high. Someone has to pay for all those unused sick days.)

We have gotten to the point where, as everyone in the Capital Region knows, a government job in general is a better gig than a private job. And never mind teacher-union propaganda about slave wages and teachers abandoning the occupation in great numbers for jobs in the private sector, which is a lot of eyewash. "Public-sector retirees have become the haves and private retirees the new have-nots," quotes City Journal, which is about right. And not just retirees but active workers too.