The average state or local government worker in California makes nearly $70,000 per year (ref. U.S. Census 2010 State Payroll – California and U.S. Census 2010 Local Government Worker Payroll – California). The average state or local government worker in California, if they work 30 years, will retire with a pension that averages $66,864 per year, and the average public school teacher in California, if they work 30 years, will retire with a pension that averages $68,316 per year (ref. CalPERS Annual Financial Report FYE 6-30-2011, page 153, and CalSTRS Annual Financial Report FYE 6-30-2010, page 149). Bearing in mind that most private sector workers spend at least 40 years performing full-time work – for example, from age 25 until age 65 – it is germane to note that a public school teacher in California who works 40 years will receive an average retirement pension of $103,128 per year.
In addition to pay and retirement benefits that greatly exceed private sector averages, California’s state and local workers are invariably granted health insurance benefits where the vast majority of the premium payments are covered by the employer. In the private sector, it is a privilege to be offered membership in a group plan, i.e., to even be allowed to have health insurance, much less have 80% (or more) of the premium covered by the employer.
The typical state or local government job in California usually includes 12-14 paid holidays per year, along with paid “personal” days, paid vacation that levels off at 20 days (or more) per year by mid-career, sick leave that accrues without limit and can be cashed in, and “comp time” packages such as the “9/80” program, whereby if a government employee works nine hour days for nine days, they get the 10th day off with pay. That is, show up slightly early and skip a few breaks each day, and you get a three day weekend every other week, with pay.
Let’s not forget that on top of these benefits that only “millionaires and billionaires” can enjoy in the private sector, the average public sector worker pretty much has a job for life. In a mere two years, for example, a public school teacher acquires “tenure,” and cannot be fired without a due process that is obscenely expensive and outrageously prolonged – even if they have committed serious crimes. Similar protections exist for most all government workers in California.
But it isn’t enough.
As reported on February 13th in the Sacramento Bee, in an article entitled “California lawmaker writes ‘Public Employees Bill of Rights’,” Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has introduced legislation that would “give unionized state workers more workplace discipline protections and first dibs on state government work.” And as one might expect, SEIU Local 1000 and the Union of American Physicians and Dentists support Dickinson’s AB 1655, the “Public Employees Bill of Rights Act.”
Anyone familiar with public employee labor organizations or has read through any of the labor agreements negotiated for state and local government employees by these unions knows that California’s government workers are already among the most over-protected, over-paid workers in the history of the planet.
Ultimately, the problem with even more rules that bankrupt our governments at the same time as they restrict the ability of public managers to run their agencies efficiently are not the fault of the workers. Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? The root of the problem is the agenda of public sector unions, which is invariably to increase their membership and negotiate ever higher compensation packages, which translates into more dues revenue for these unions. The inevitable result of this agenda is more government programs, more government spending, higher taxes, and budget deficits. The inherent agenda of public sector unions is at odds with good governance and the public interest.
One of the most astute commentators on the issue of public sector sustainability is David Goldman, a relatively obscure columnist for the Asia Times who has, for years, offered seminal insights on politics, economics and demographics. Goldman pours cold water on the notion that those who call for reform of the public sector unions are being manipulated by corporations and billionaires. In a post last fall entitled “The Economics of Polarization,” he writes:
“America is engaged in class war, but not of the sort one reads about in the mainstream press. The truly indigent have little to do in this war. Large corporations for the most part are bystanders as well; they will make their peace with the victor. This is a war of survival between the productive middle class on one hand, and the dependents of the state on the other.”
“Public sector employees unions rode the real estate bubble along with homeowners, and local governments awarded them unsustainable concessions in the form of pay, pensions and health benefits. Their political power waxed with state and local spending power. Today the public sector unions are the backbone of the Democratic Party. They man the phone banks, staff polling stations, and round up voters to the polls.”
One may consider it partisanship to quote a pundit who identifies the Democratic party as in partnership with public sector unions. Or perhaps it would merely be accurate reporting. Assemblymember Dickinson and all of those in his position – Republicans among them – need to decide what is truly in the public interest. Taking money from public sector unions whose sole agenda is the expansion of government, while corporations sit on the sidelines, represents a profound political imbalance that cannot endure.