About California public employees’ reasonable wages …

Surprise! State workers aren’t overpaid.

… [From] a study by the University of California Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics.

“California public employees, both state and local, are not overpaid,” the report states. Based on its research, state workers make about seven percent less in wages than private sector counterparts, but their benefits are better, so there is “no significant difference” between the two. …

Translation: California gets its public workforce at discounted wages that it makes up for with benefits like pensions. Without those benefits, state workers are just getting ripped off for about 7% of the value of their work. Either way, the state is getting a good deal.

As much as conservatives would like to suggest that teachers and janitors and bus drivers are to blame, even those scary, underfunded pensions aren’t a problem.

For every dollar California pays out in pensions (pdf), it gets $1.47 worth of economic activity. For every dollar taxpayers put into the state and local pension system, they get $7.91 worth of economic activity. Much of that activity goes through local businesses and adds to state revenues. Importantly, it represents deferred compensation that the state agreed to pay in the future so it could offer lower salaries in the present.

Then even if the state laid off even more public workers, a lot of their work would still need to be done. Hello, outsourcing.

$175 to empty an ashtray. $2,166 to fix five smoke detectors. $8,000 to scrape gum off four feet of sidewalk. Those are some of the maintenance charges from companies on contract with California’s court system — and all were approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees court budgets. …

If California’s public workers were making that much for such small tasks, it’d be news all over the country. But it was a private, for-profit company charging that much, so the only people who care are the public employees who worry that their stable, if lower paid, jobs will be lost to companies that charge the government a lot and may pay their employees even less.

Not that governments have that kind of money to spend, because the recession has slashed state and local tax revenues.

Though for conservatives it isn’t really about deficits or smaller government. It’s all about the cheap labor.

They came for the private unions and their overpaid layabouts, all thinking they had a right to a decent house and a college fund for the kids. Then they came for private pensions, which were running those poor, innocent companies into the ground. Now they’re coming for the last group of people in the country with any job or retirement security, because, at base, they don’t believe that ordinary people should have the right to stable, comfortable lives. They heap contempt on the idea of a living wage and miss no opportunity to suggest that people-who-aren’t-CEOs are lazy, greedy, and dreadfully overpaid.

Yesterday it was grocery clerks, today it’s teachers. The shape of the conversation doesn’t change. The salaries of the 95% are an inefficient drag on the salaries of upper management and the profits of investors. Your public services are a drag on their ability to intimidate a desperate workforce into accepting even less pay. Your quality of life is wasteful overhead, unless you’re an investment banker, because those guys are under a lot of stress and $500,000 doesn’t go very far.

Scapegoating public workers won’t make any of the country’s problems go away. All it will do is to increase inequality and make things worse for everyone.

And the truth is that the state gets a good return on money it spends on public services and pensions. I’d be curious to know if it makes as much back from shoveling money to fossil fuel companies.

While I’m proud to work for SEIU, I’m only speaking for myself in this post.

7 thoughts on “About California public employees’ reasonable wages …”

  1. It’s unfortunate that the greedheads in Bell make the news. That the media reports on top brass who retire young with three-figure incomes–only to draw additional salaries in their next jobs. These rare examples, while true, obscure the larger truth you talk about here.

    I know teachers. Lots of them. I know public employees. None of them are getting rich. So I was glad to read the study you quote earlier today on another site. I hope it gets picked up and reported more widely. Privatization has failed in other states, just as it clearly has in the example you cite. And people need to hear the truth instead of the rhetoric.

    Thanks for sharing some of it.

  2.   The obvious point to make is that we need to restore

    private-sector pensions, rather than eliminate public

    ones (it always amazes me that Republicans decry the

    “politics of envy” and then turn around and tell private

    sector workers about how the public sector enjoys pensions

    they no longer get–talk about envy there!).

     Anyway, it makes a lot more sense to pay private employees

    7% less and put the money into pensions, and laws should be

    changed to encourage (mandate, I would say) that.  Note

    that the reason there is such a poor return on social

    security as a pension system is that it also functions

    as a social welfare, child welfare, and disability system

    (which it should, but when you hear a Rep talking about

    how you can make more money with a 401K they are always

    removing the social insurance aspects of social security).

     Democrats should be making the restorations of private

    pensions one of their issues (and it appeals to the

    middle class).  This will become particularly relevant

    as individuals without pensions (pretty much everyone under

    40 and most under 55, other than government workers) start

    planning for retirement–it is an issue Democrats can

    run on.

  3. Anyone who worked with the promise of a particular pension should and will get it. No sane person is suggesting otherwise.

    That said, the UC study appears to dramatically understate actual pension costs, calling them roughly 8 percent of total compensation. I don’t know the source of that number, but these days, the cost has grown a heck of a lot larger when there’s the least money to cover it. Blind denial of the financial reality there is … unproductive.

    Taking money from Jack to give Jill doesn’t magically create new money.  The multiplier works both way. Pretending otherwise is simply dishonest.

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