A hot button that's not going away

Jeff Golden

Picture 6 I keep wanting to take this past year's spotlight on corporate bank bailouts and the health insurance industry as good news.  You'd think it would make the brazen trashing of economic justice harder to ignore. You might even think they'd fuel the growth of a progressive majority massive and insistent enough to, say, force Congress to approve single-payer health insurance, or at a bare minimum an honest public option. 

     Why doesn't that happen?  Wedge issues are part of the answer.  And one of the most skillfully-inserted wedges in Oregon politics is still public employee compensation.  Republicans have thrashed us with this one for a long time, successfully distracting a lot of voters from looking at what's actually been making them less secure.  One evocative news story about generous compensation for public employees can effectively wipe out twenty about the regressiveness of Oregon taxation (yawn) or the unbroken string of goodies that Salem has handed to the big lobbies.  

     That's too bad.  I think we have to engage with those unhappy about public employee pay.  Instead of ignoring them, blasting them as anti-government trogs or trying to educate them on the fine points of 20-year-old contract provisions, can we acknowledge that they're not crazy?  That was the impetus for this week's column on the recent flap over bonuses for the State Treasurer's fund managers.  

I believe what I wrote there, but the larger purpose is a gesture towards pulling out this particular wedge.  If the people ticked off at public employees are at all like me, they listen better after they feel listened to. 


  • (Show?)

    Sure, not all compensation issues are bunk. Paying huge six-figure bonuses to fund managers is ridiculous. But paying $60,000 to a manager with a decade of experience and a graduate degree is perfectly reasonable.

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    To me the problem is making sure that public salary and benefit packages compare as closely as possible with private salary and benefit packages. If a person with a masters in XX works for the State doing YYY and gets paid XXX and a person with the same masters works for Ma and Pa Kettle, Inc. doing YYY and gets paid XXX, I don't see how any rational person could complain. It gets tricky where Ma and Pa Kettle cut wages and benefits in response to the recession and the State does not. But I think there has been some cutting (Friday furloughs or whatever??).

    Equal pay for equal work should be the mantra. And unfortunately, if the private sector begins to soften and wages and benefits begin to decline, that means that the State should follow. Otherwise inequalities will cause problems in the near and long term.

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    "Sure, not all compensation issues are bunk." Thanks, Kari. Why do you think Ds are so slow to say that? Fear of losing public employees' campaign contributions? A "give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile" attitude? A belief that they ARE all bunk? I'll say it again: most people listen better after they feel listened to.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)


    "To me the problem is making sure that public salary and benefit packages compare as closely as possible with private salary and benefit packages. . . . Equal pay for equal work should be the mantra. And unfortunately, if the private sector begins to soften and wages and benefits begin to decline, that means that the State should follow."

    So, in other words, the private sector mentality should dominate all decisions either way -- whether by privatizing work or by setting all pay scales anyway.

    What a load of bunkum.

  • LT (unverified)

    "And one of the most skillfully-inserted wedges in Oregon politics is still public employee compensation. "

    Only recently has the pay of any non-unionized workers been an issue. As in management deserves unquestioning support for "whatever the market will bear" and little or no job performance evaluation, but frontline workers who belong to those evil unions deserve to be examined in every aspect of pay, benefits, job performance.

    And then, there are those school districts which expect frontline employees to take pay cuts while management just doesn't get COLA raises---and then wonders why not only the employees but the local community question the pay of management and wonders about school board members who don't seem to think such a system is anything to complain about. Even to the point of a budget committee member saying "you get what you pay for" regarding management.

    At a recent legislative hearing, the person testifying on "recent flap over bonuses for the State Treasurer's fund managers" said there had been repeated attempts to hire away their most qualified staffer. But since the most recent attempt (at a much higher salary) was in what was described as a terrible place to live, then he hoped the staffer would opt to remain in Oregon. Would it be better for such a person to be hired away at a higher salary because we'd rather have low quality low paid workers in Oregon?

    Sure there should be legislative oversight. But given the number of public employees in Oregon who are paid more than the Gov. (school supt., university presidents, and others), while many frontline workers give a day's work for what is not high pay, it seems like " If the people ticked off at public employees are at all like me, they listen better after they feel listened to." over generalizes.

    Are we supposed to forget that pay increases were traded for health benefits?

    Once upon a time there was a proposed ballot measure to pay everyone in state government exactly what the private sector paid for that job. Then someone did a study and found there were job categories where public employees could make a lot more money if they switched to the same job in the private sector. As I recall, the measure was dropped after that study became public.

    Sometimes pay is excessive, but my experience is that frontline workers often give better customer service than top management. To tar all of them as overpaid public employees sounds to me like stereotyping of the worst sort.

  • jaybeat (unverified)

    Not to wreck the kum-by-ya going on here, but there are some fundamentals behind a lot of the examples of this type of wedge issue (maybe most, certainly not all) that make me suspect.

    First, they almost always seem to be predicated on mis-placed jealousy that fuels a race to the bottom. Private sector pensions have all been converted to 401ks, my pay's been stagnant or cut over the last 10 years, we all got fired and hired back as temps w/out benefits, etc., etc. YES, many private-sector workers have been ROYALLY SCREWED! Does that mean it's only fair too screw public workers the same way??

    This also fuels anti-union attitudes--I don't have those kinds of rights or protections at work, why the heck should anyone else? Since most public employees are more highly unionized than private, its a bit of a double-whammy.

    Frankly, I think a lot of people have a low self-esteem issue when it comes to workers' rights--I have no choice but to shut up and take it, so what makes you folks so special? Decades of Republican anti-worker propaganda seems to have paid off.

    Finally, there's the whole "they're getting paid with MY money so I get to shout about it" argument. Talk about an unlevel playing field! Public-sector salaries (at least the ranges, often the exact $ amounts) are... public! We know what everyone makes. And their benefits. Ever try an apples-to-apples comparison in private sector compensation? Good luck. Plus, philosophically, I have a real problem with the whole "my money" argument. I mean, we pay taxes in exchange for things we need. I pay private businesses money for things I need, too. Does that mean I have the right to walk in there and ask what everyone makes, what their benefits are, and demand they cut pay and benefits because I don't like how they're spending MY money?

    Come to think of it, I actually have a lot more of a problem with how the private sector spends my money than the public sector. And the private sector gets a hell of a lot more of my money than the public sector anyway.

    Maybe if salaries, benefits and overall spending in the private sector were more transparent, people would start getting mad at the people who've been cutting their salaries and benefits while enriching themselves for so many years. Rather than looking at public employees and saying, "You don't deserve that kind of treatment!" they would be better able to look at themselves and say, "Hey! I DO deserve that kind of treatment! And so does everyone else."

    Wouldn't that be something!

  • Tehanu (unverified)

    I was a public employee for about a year and a half. The job required over a month of training, as well as a strong sense of responsibility and discretion. The pay for that job was about half of what that job paid in the private sector. Half. One of my coworkers moved to the private sector and not only reported his wages were twice what he'd received from the state, but the health benefits were just as good.

    Now, would someone care to explain how public employees are all a bunch of hogs feeding at the public trough? Or maybe you'd care to explain why all those people teaching your kids, handling your college admissions and financial aid, maintaining your roads and so on don't deserve a living wage.

  • (Show?)

    So I'd point to these comments as illustrations of how a lot of the bitching about public employees' pay is bunk. Fine-- no one (on this site, anyway) is likely to argue otherwise. But let's go back to Kari's first comment: "Sure, not all compensation issues are bunk." I'd like to know if the last few commenters agree.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Thank you, jaybeat.

    Race to the bottom, jealousy, excuses for union-busting: all correct.

    Look folks, the wealthy and powerful want the rest of us reduced to serfs one way or another, too scared to raise our voices to protest the usual abuses. Keep folks scared of bankruptcy from medical bills, or beating each other up about whose insurance is better, or....all familiar tactics. Too bad they work so well.

  • LT (unverified)

    ": "Sure, not all compensation issues are bunk." I'd like to know if the last few commenters agree. "

    For years we had an incompetent person working in school district HR. This woman was paid too much money--the local paper had a database with all the salaries.

    However, I don't believe that all district HR professionals should be paid less than they are now, just because some people think public employees are paid too much. A small district HR person I dealt with many times over the years was excellent, but I'll bet she earned less than the incompetent person in the large district.

    I am willing to discuss specifics. What bothers me is that private sector employment should not be transparent, management in any economic sector deserves whatever pay they can negotiate, but generalized "public employees" deserve to be bashed without mercy.

    Jeff, if you want to say a specific public employee, a specific job classification, etc. are paid too much, that is one thing.

    But bashing "public employees " generally reminds me of when Kim Thatcher first got elected state rep. She had complained "public employees don't pay taxes".

    When she was sworn in as a legislator and hired staff, she was a public employee, and so were her staff.

    Did those folks have Oregon income taxes withheld from their paychecks? What a subversive question for anyone to ask the office of St. Rep. Thatcher!

    My point is this: Republicans have long been the generalities party, Democrats the ones who care about specifics. Are ALL public employees overpaid, incl. those who work part time for no benefits and less than $15 per hour? Or is this a code word debate---and only if all public employees were paid half their current salaries with no benefits the people complaining would find something else to complain about?

    "We must discuss this wedge issue in generalized terms" doesn't sound like someone who really wants specific discussion. Try again, Jeff, when you can talk about some statistics.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Here is the perception by many private sector employees, managers and owners:

    1. State employees have a much better health benefits package and pay little or nothing for it. For a family that is about $5000/yr out of pocket if they have employer provided benefits.

    2. State employees have PERS. Tier 1 PERS gets all the news with the guaranteed payout that is HUGE. Public sector employees rarely pay anything into PERS. Private sector employees pay into their 401(k)'s with nowhere near a guaranteed 8% payout. Private sector employer contributions are "discretionary" and many have ceased contributing.

    3. Public sector union negotiations are conducted by elected/appointed officials with no skin in the game. Huge time off provisions are negotiated and not ever reviewed. For quite some time public service employees could even "roll" huge unused paid time off balances into their final year PERS calculations. Pay and benefits costs are passed on to taxpayers.

    4. Back to PERS - the state screwed it up beyond all possible sanity and now the taxpayer is still paying into the fund guarantees. That amount goes up three-fold next year due to losses again last year - yet they gave out a bonus to all 11 fund managers?????

    5. Private sector employees, managers and business owners are looking at lay-offs, 20% pay/benefit decreases or shutting their doors. Dagoba Chocolate in Ashland (a subsidiary of Hershey's) has had 73 days of no production so far this year. The public sector employees are facing no COLA, no Step and 5 days of furlough this year and 5 days of furlough next year. No sympathy from the private sector.

    6. There is the perspective of a general lack of productivity, accountability and openess in the public sector when compared to similar private sector activities.

    7. The state pleads poverty, yet gives out huge pay increases and bonus to employees. There is a genuine lack of trust from private sector employees, managers and business owners.

    Good post Jeff, perhaps we could have an open discussion about these perceptions.

  • Roy McAvoy (unverified)


    Great points, and maybe goos reasons for the "wedge".

    Remember though, no public sector employee ever gets to enjoy many of the benefits or loopholes private business owners enjoy. In fact, some public employees may come to resent private sector tax deductions to the extent that it makes negotiations to reduce public benefits even more difficult.

    1. Lunches, dinners, trips, and meetings for the private sector business person is often taken as a complete tax deduction, when any related business item is even broadly discussed. It rarely applies in the public sector.

    2. Vehicles leased or used for "business purposes" often double as a 2nd family car for many private sector folks, and then written off as a business tax deduction. How many times have we seen a line of pickup trucks (with company logos on them) waiting in line at the river to launch their fishing boats? Or parked at the store while family groceries are purchased? Was the gas to get there a tax deduction too?

    3. We can only trust that every dollar in cash received in salary by private business is reported as income. For every dollar not reported, it is certainly cash out of all our pockets.

    Sure, many business owners are very honest, but some are not. I am pretty sure every penny of a public employee's compensation is documented and taxed, even if some disagree with the amount.

    Don't get me wrong. There are some things that can be fixed with respect to public sector payouts. Difficult economic times alomst always provide more security to those employed in the pubic sector. But all in all, the private sector has always been the place to really prosper in the long run.

  • jaybeat (unverified)


    1. Why don't we shame the private sector for their inadequate benefits packages (At least for the rank and file. I'd love to know what kind of gold-encrusted health benefits Fortune 500 CEOs are getting these days.), instead of bass-ackwardsly thinking that public employees are getting "too much." And, why do we ignore the fact that they get those benefits in large part because they, and the unions negotiating for them, gave up pay increases.

    2. The transition from defined-benefit retirement plans to 401k plans (often way over invested in company stock, which, in the hands of short-term-thinking managers can be worse than worthless--think Enron) is one of the single most under-reported and largest involuntary transfers of wealth from the middle class to the uber-wealthy. We're supposed to expect public workers to march off the cliff into the sea just like their private sector brethren? You first, SUCKER!

    3. "No skin in the game"? Ha! An elected official has to come back to voters every 2, 4 or 6 years and explain why they need more money to do less. A private sector management team can union-bust with virtually no penalty (what CEO ever got their job because they had union support?), and can always shift the cost structure around (aka raise prices). Plus, if it gets too bad, they can spend more money lobbying Washington that they just can't compete globally without more underpaid foreign workers, fewer union protections, worse benefits, etc., etc. Most public sector managers aren't able to threaten to outsource the entire department to Bangladesh. Funny how that gets private sector workers to shut up quick and take whatever they're given.

    4. Back to Enron, et. al. They screw the pooch, get theirs while they still can, and live on to have the nerve (and the legal budget) to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court! I'm sure Skilling spent more on limos last week then all the fund managers' bonuses for the last 20 years.

    5. No sympathy from the private sector. Why not? Envy. Why wouldn't I or any other private sector worker want the protections and rights that unionized public sector workers have? But union-busting has been legal for so long in the private sector that outside of manufacturing (which has all been outsourced, see #3) you have to go back 2 generations to find private sector workers who even knew such protections and rights were possible. From the perspective of most private-sector workers, public-employee rights and privileges (negotiated in good faith, and often in exchange for large sacrifices) are FROM MARS. Like the child who has only known abuse, they can't imagine that there are children whose parents DON'T hit them.

    6. Huge pay increases? When? To whom? Sounds like another right-wing generalization to me.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Ron, some good points as well. I can comment to your comments about leased vehicles or company owned vehicles.

    Company leased vehicle cost are added to the employee W-2 at year end for taxable income purposes. Company owned vehicles used by employees must report all non-business related travel. This mileage is also added to the W-2 at year end for taxable income purposes as imputed income.

  • LT (unverified)

    Jeff, comments like this "One evocative news story about generous compensation for public employees can effectively wipe out twenty about the regressiveness of Oregon taxation (yawn) or the unbroken string of goodies that Salem has handed to the big lobbies. "

    and this

    "Here is the perception by many private sector employees, managers and owners:..."

    obscure the fact that when some employees of private corporations are transferred, they are given assistance in moving and in some cases the corporation will buy their house so they will have the money to buy a new one.

    But that's OK because private sector employees are the "good guys" and anyone working in the public sector should expect verbal abuse?

    There are some people who think all bloggers are windbags.

    There are some people who believe all people vote in blocs and never think for themselves.

    Are we going to reward sterotypes?

    Do you think everyone yawns about the regressiveness of Oregon taxes?

    Do you think everyone whose family income comes from private business thinks all public employees are lazy and overpaid? None of them have relatives who are teachers or work for government agencies (incl. public safety)?

    Could it be you are only looking at a sector of the population and generalizing?

  • LT (unverified)

    I wonder how many people here have ever worked in sales--Jeff? Kurt?


    is the story of how slow business was in downtown Salem at lunchtime on Friday.

    Private sector employers and managers all see this issue the same way?

    Or could it be that the private businesses quoted in the article (esp. eating places) see public employees as customers?

    Would it really help the bottom line of these companies if all Oregon public employees were paid the lowest salary for their job category in any of the 50 states? Could those employees then afford to patronize those businesses or would they all either bring lunches or go someplace cheap like McDonalds?

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    jaybeat, you and LT can attack me all you want. I am merely writing some of the more common perceptions held by many in the private sector. To some of your points:

    1. In Oregon 97% of incumbants hold their office at re-election. the source is right here on BO.
    2. Unprecedented payraises - in 2008 Kulongoski gave 60% pay increases to state managers and directors. This summer, ODF gave across the board 40% pay increases to seasonal wild land fire fighters. Also, ODF gives all seasonal workers full health/life/dental/vision benefits.
    3. Shame the private sector for inadequate benefits packages? With health benefits costing 8% or more of payroll, the cost must be shared. One of the largest documented problems with utilization is that a 3rd party (the employer or the public entity) is still pickling up a majority or all of the premium cost.

    Jeff was hoping to have a dialogue (I think) about the perceptions and issues. If you just want to argue then the perceptions will remain and the wedge will only go deeper.

  • jaybeat (unverified)


    Funny, I thought I was debating your point of view, and arguing the issue, not "attacking" YOU. You may in fact be "writing some of the more common perceptions held by many in the private sector," but a) those perceptions are, in the cases I argued, largely WRONG, and b) most of them are predicated on an anti-worker, anti-government right-wing framing of the debate, which has been the dominant frame at least since Ronald Reagan.

    1. Incumbency is not a lifetime appointment, obviously. Look at the switch in the Oregon House from GOP to Democratic control (what was that, a dozen years in the making?) or GOP control of the US Congress for all but 1/4 of the Clinton and Bush years. Elections matter, and politicians know it. To say they have "no skin in the game" is disingenuous. Most private-sector managers aren't negotiating out of their own pocketbook, either.

    2. You want to put increases for state workers (who've gone for years with reduced wage increases due to tax limitation measures and unfunded mandates like Measure 11) up against CEO pay and the over-the-top excesses of Wall Street et. al.? I don't know whether to laugh, cry or throw up.

    3. Now you're starting to sound like the CEO of Whole Foods! News flash: Every modern, democratic, developed country, except ours, follows a very simple principle when it comes to health care costs and health care spending. We all need it, we all pay for it. End of story. Spread the risk, share the costs. You seem to think that if everyone were on their own when it came to health care costs, the system would work great. Sounds like the GOP healthcare plan: If you're not rich, don't get sick. If you do, die quickly. Again, the public sector is supposed to race the private sector to the bottom?

    Why, I wonder, is this not a "dialogue" but instead an "argument"? What, in fact, is the difference, in your view? Is it just that some of us challenge the premises or the universality of these "perceptions"? That we in fact remember a time when public sector workers were not vilified, despite, in fact, being better compensated, I'm sure, than they are today? That we also remember the politicians and the ideology that was able to make the teacher, the cop, the firefighter and the DMV worker into a threat to "regular Americans," not unlike the Communist or the Negro or the Abolitionist in previous generations?

    Or, again, is it that we in the private sector should resign ourselves to our lot in life, be glad for what we have, and feel entitled to pull everyone down to our level, if we can. Especially those lazy, uppity union workers at the government trough.

    That doesn't sound like a dialog to me. That sounds like the Party Line. The Grotesque Oppression Party.

  • RyanLeo (unverified)

    Too much a short-sighted view on this topic in public and on many blogs. High compensation for Public Sector employees along with a tax-payer paid for pension are two lethal additions for the long term viability of public employee pensions.

    Traditionally, people worked in the Public Sector (Government) for the benefits and the pension at the cost of the pay that they would otherwise be offered in the Private Sector (For-profit business and not-for-profit organizations).

    However, the "Reinventing Government" phenomenon has tried it's best to change that traditional view of the Public Sector. Under "Reinventing Government," the Public Sector blindly believes that all organizational innovation comes from Big Business, upper management should be first recruited from Big Business, and accordingly, compensation for employees should be in line with those offered in Big Business.

    I use "Big Business" instead of the "Private Sector" because that is where many leaders of state agencies tend to have considerable experience in.

    The coupling of high pay with the traditional pension has ramifications that the Baby Boomers will feel once they are long retired. I surmise that this combination will bring down the whole public employee pension system due to the increasing perception of younger generations revolting against paying taxes that does not benefit their children.

    Honestly, many of my peers (Millennial and Generation X) perceive that the Baby Boomers have it as good as it gets in terms of succeeding their parents income levels. My generation feels that all the problems have been bucked onto us, some of us don't want to pay into a system that we will get very little out of in comparison to our parents, and why bother supporting a bunch of retirees who oppose any change that threatens their current status even if they won't live another 5 years to see the change?

  • mp97303 (unverified)


    Remember though, no public sector employee ever gets to enjoy many of the benefits or loopholes private business owners enjoy.

    Lets clear up a few errors and fallacies here:

    1. The deductibility of M&E expenses are limited to 50% (I do agree that this is heavily abused though)

    2. All mileage on a business vehicle much be documented in writing and only business use mileage may be deducted. To claim a fishing trip as business use is a CRIME much like you deducting $2500 in charitable contributions you didn't make.

    3. Not reporting income to the IRS is a CRIME, not a perk of doing business.

  • (Show?)

    There is something weird and wrong about this conversation.

    It's not up to me as a progressive person and a third party to compromise the position of people under attack, to make some postulated I=don't-know-who who "doesn't feel listened to" feel better.

    A lot of those deploying this wedge don't want to feel listened to, they want to prevent the use of government as a tool to help people.

    It's a myth that there are never public sector give-backs or cuts or job losses. Part of the reason it works differently in that sector, however, is the centrality of public services.

    The question in my mind is whether there's a way for public sector workers to become leaders in helping private sector workers regain more of the bargaining power they had from 1946 until the early 1970s, which largely would mean reviving private sector unionism, but could also mean something like single payer health care, i.e. a general increase in the social wage. If public sector workers are only on the defensive the wedge works; if they fight the race to the bottom for others too, it may not.

  • Jake Weigler (unverified)

    I assume that Chip Kelly and Mike Riley are the highest paid public employees in Oregon. If you're going to argue they receive excessive compensation, I'll pay for your safe passage out of state.

    Being a little tongue and cheek, but i think it is a good example of how "excessive" can be hard to detemine objectively and how knowing context can shape your opinion on it.

  • LT (unverified)

    97% of incumbents are re-elected? Does that count just the ones who run for re-election (not for higher office or decide to retire)?

    Members of the 2005 legislature no longer in the legislature in 2009 (due to retirement, running for higher office, or defeat): Karen Minnis, Wayne Scott Jeff Merkley, Robert Ackerman, Brad Avakian Gordon Anderson, Alan Brown, Chuck Burley, Tom Butler Billy Dalto, Debi Farr, Linda Flores Gary Hansen, Greg Macpherson, Ben Westlund Derrick Kitts, Jeff Kropf, Jerry Krummel, John Lim Susan Morgan, Donna Nelson, Patti Smith, Mac Sumner Kelly Wirth, Roger Beyer, Gary George, Charles Starr Avel Gordly, Ryan Deckert, Charlie Ringo, Kurt Schrader

    By my count (of the ones I remember, anyway) something like 13% of the above were defeated for re-election. Or did you mean every elected official in Oregon--city council, school board, county comm. all the way up to Gov?

    On Jeff's original point, are Jeff or Kurt or any of the rest of you aware of this?


    It is the proposal for a public compensation comm. from the Public Comm. on the Legislature.

    Today in the grocery store I ran into an old friend.

    The subject of candidates came up. This friend is sure Frank Morse will run for Gov. and thinks he would do a good job.

    I told my friend that I had told 2 Gov. candidates to their face that I belong to the "spectator caucus"--we were denied an intelligent debate in the 2006 Gov. campaign and my vote this year will go to the candidate who provides us with intelligent debate--not attacks or vague generalities or insider talk like "locking up support".

    Frank Morse did an excellent job on the Public Comm. on the Legislature, which is why I am such a fan even when I disagree with him.

    At the moment, I am a bigger fan of Frank Morse than of Jeff and Kurt combined. Jeff, reread your last paragraph.

    Jeff, you said " larger purpose is a gesture towards pulling out this particular wedge". Does the pcol proposal do that? If not, why not? Do you have an alternative?

    To read more, go to http://landru.leg.state.or.us/pcol

    There were many public employees connected to PCOL, from current and former office holders to the staff of the commission. I hold them all in high regard.

  • LT (unverified)

    Jake, very witty!

    Craig Robinson is a "public employee" just as his brother in law is!

    Here's an experiment.

    Let's take the Mike Riley, Chip Kelly and Craig Robinson salaries, add in the pay package for their university presidents and anyone else in that general pay range. Then let's add in the pay package of the school supt. in those towns. Then add in all the part time pay for anyone at those universities or school districts (incl. the food service folks, the part time teacher and library assistants, etc.) and see what the "average " salary is.

    There is an old joke that when Bill Gates walks into a bar he raises the average pay of everyone in a bar.

  • LT (unverified)

    Ryan, I'd research this if I were you: "Honestly, many of my peers (Millennial and Generation X) perceive that the Baby Boomers have it as good as it gets in terms of succeeding their parents income levels."

    I don't believe that "baby boom" lasts until 1964. That is the year I graduated from high school. I was born in 1946, my younger brother born in 1959, and his viewpoint is different than mine. If you were to have access to the annual income of everyone born in that age range, I think you would find people who did very well financially, and people who barely made ends meet. When there are lots of people the same age, not everyone finds a full time permanent job.

    Saying, "oh, you are a baby boomer, you must have done well financially" will not get you the support of people who had a lot of temp. jobs but nothing permanent.

  • LT (unverified)

    Ryan, I'd research this if I were you: "Honestly, many of my peers (Millennial and Generation X) perceive that the Baby Boomers have it as good as it gets in terms of succeeding their parents income levels."

    I don't believe that "baby boom" lasts until 1964. That is the year I graduated from high school. I was born in 1946, my younger brother born in 1959, and his viewpoint is different than mine. If you were to have access to the annual income of everyone born in that age range, I think you would find people who did very well financially, and people who barely made ends meet. When there are lots of people the same age, not everyone finds a full time permanent job.

    Saying, "oh, you are a baby boomer, you must have done well financially" will not get you the support of people who had a lot of temp. jobs but nothing permanent.

  • David from Eugene (unverified)

    The real problem is not that Public Employees are paid too much; the problem is too many private sector employees are paid too little. And too many of those under paid workers do not believe they can do anything about it. Making the situation even worse Wall Street and too many of those employers do not realize that their employees are directly or indirectly their customers.

    To counter this wedge issue don’t defend the public employee’s rate of pay, attack the private sector for paying their employees too little. Point out to private sector workers that the problem is not that public employees are unionized but that they are not.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    jaybeat, if this is dialogue, then it is certainly spirited! OK, I've tried to follow in Jeff's vein by writing down what some of the comon perceptions, or misconceptions are. That some would disagree vehemently is understood. LT, I know that you have some similar concerns that center on your local school district and administration.

    So, to some of the counters:

    1. LT, your reference to a pay commission is 3 years old. to many that means it is something that "ain't gonna happen". It also only pertains to elected officials of the executive branch of state government, the legislative assembley, district attorneys and judges. That is a microcosm of the public sector. It also creates yet more government, in the form of a full time commission, to watch over government. Not an answer in many opinions.

    2. Some would say that the problem is a general decline of unionization in the private sector ever since the 70's. Actually, private sector unionization never was over about 28% of that group and began its decline about 1959. Certainly there are several excellent public and private sector unions in existence, but to lay the wedge issues being discussed here at the feet of public v private sector unions is a bit simplistic.

    3. Perhaps the wedge issues being discussed are more symbolic than concrete. It is based on an unknown of the other party and what they face. Certainly one of the greatest unknowns is that the private sector is unable to print money or forcibly raise prices during bad times while the government and public sector can raise taxes and fees at any time they choose.

    4. I am reminded of a group meeting I was attending a few years ago and a teacher was vocally complaining about the prospect that they might soon have to pay $50/month for their family insurance ocverage. A friend of theirs rolled their eys and said, "come sit with me when I pay the family health insurance bill". Again it is about choices and paths. Unfortunately many on each side have no concept of what the other faces daily, weekly, monthly.

    5. And yes, there is something broken in a system that pays college football and basketball coaches more than anyone else in the state system.

  • jaybeat (unverified)

    "the private sector is unable to print money or forcibly raise prices during bad times while the government and public sector can raise taxes and fees at any time they choose"

    Really? Then why is it than any increase in real wages is reflexively opposed on the grounds that it "will be passed on to the consumer," presumably reducing sales, while the "other" option is that-which-must-never-speak-its-name: reducing corporate profits?

    Could it be that the failure of wages to keep pace with inflation despite unprecedented gains in worker productivity is because the benefits of those gains have been siphoned off exclusively to corporate profits (and as a result, non-wage income)?


    So, again, as the private sector battles to depress wages (through, among other things, threats of outsourcing or damaging the employer's viability), while productivity--and corporate profits, and executive compensation, soar--we the people are supposed to naturally side with the private-sector corporations over the public-sector workers? Well yes we are, according to knee-jerk anti-tax rhetoric and relentless anti-government propaganda, funded by the very same always-increasing corporate profits which would be threatened if private-sector workers started to get "uppity" and demand some of the same benefits and protections public sector workers are condemned for!

    And as far as #4 is concerned, the teacher is supposed to "come sit with me when I pay the family health insurance bill"? Why should they? Instead, the "friend" with the outrageous insurance bill should be asking the teacher's help in demanding better, from their employer and their government!

    Sounds like divide and conquer politics can hang a banner stating "Mission Accomplished." And yet you state that those of us who have always opposed the right-wing noise machine--we are the ones who need to "engage" with its victims and "acknowledge they're not crazy"? But they ARE! They've been duped! Sold a bill of goods! Sent up the river without a paddle! Convinced that their friends are in fact their own worst enemy.

    The first step in de-programming a brain-washing victim is to remove them from their tormentor. And they often resist, mightily, since their abuser's world-view is all they know. (Why do you think the tea-baggers are so angry?) But it is only then that the process of returning them to the real world can begin. Americans must first separate themselves from the endless onslaught of corporate-funded brainwashing, before we can expect them to clearly see and act in their own interests.

    Too bad that here, in such an excellent place to do that as Blue Oregon, we have to spend so much time countering those same propagandists and their proxies.

  • LT (unverified)

    Kurt, the most intelligent thing you have said so far:

    ". Perhaps the wedge issues being discussed are more symbolic than concrete."

    When friends see each other at a social event, in a restaurant or a grocery store, is this topic what they discuss? I wonder.

    I have annoyed many friends over the years because they wanted to debate symbolism and I wanted to discuss concrete solutions.

    So, Kurt, in the interest of problem solving, these questions: 1) What do you propose? 2) What steps would be required to accomplish what you propose? 3) If your proposal was adopted, do you really believe that the wedge issue would disappear and the chronic complainers wouldn't still find something wrong with public employees?

    It seems to me that the people who complain would like to go back to the days shown so brilliantly in the TV series Mad Men--white men ruled, everyone knew their place in life, women had to work twice as hard as men to accomplish the same goals, etc. My aunt was a Midwestern big city public school science teacher back in those days. She transferred high schools when safety became an issue. Her husband taught college level mechanical drawing (before CAD and computers). If you had known them back 50 years ago, would you have said their income was too high?

    I spent a recent weekend at a family reunion where the age range was from 90 to not yet a year old. The group included a retired teacher (private school) 2 stay at home Moms who had once been working--one a middle school teacher and one a school psychologist (this 2nd woman's husband works in corporate development), 2 men in the 30 year age range who work for companies which sell vehicles, a Vietnam era veteran who is self employed, someone who had been laid off yet another outside sales job.

    No one there made a big deal about which people work in the public sector and which in the private sector. For all the talk on this topic here, no one there was talking about this "hot button".

    It may well be that this is a "hot button" among certain demographics. On the other hand, many people spend more time talking about work, family, hobbies, sports than about any political issue.

    It is entirely possible that if Kurt and Jeff could agree on a solution that they thought eliminated the hot button, but a majority of the population would never be aware of this issue and it has no relevance to their daily lives.


  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Please understand that Jeff has merely posited a straw argument, one that he really does not believe in, but one that he feels needs to be discussed so that we can get beyond the hyperbole from both sides. In that vein I wrote down some of the percieved issues from the private side and also perhaps the anti-more-tax crowd. Certainly I've heard it from time to time and while not believing all of it, thought the purpose of debate would be served.

    So, how to move forward?

    1. There will always be chronic complainers on either side of the issue. Some believe the state attempts too little, some contend they attempt too much. The extremes of the spectrum are not going to change. We should try to find understanding under the bell curve, the majority of those involved. I suggest turning off Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, etc, etc. I did this about 3 months ago and now get my news from local sources and by reading newspapers and following the BBC. Once the rhetoric is tuned out solutions become more available.

    2. Engage true local and open discussion. The town hall debacles were embarrassing, but for some legislators they were very open, communicative and productive. Have an open and easily communicated reporting of what state taxes support and to what extent. Sunlight can be a good thing to promote understanding.

    3. When there are srew ups like the DSHS cost over runs, the computer system fiasco and others - ADMIT IT. Fix the problem and make sure it doesn't happen again. Conduct more of the state's business out in the open.

    4. Stop holding K-12 education hostage. There was a movement a few years back to make education funding the first thing the legislature did during the budget cycle. At the district level there should be a complete accounting for expenditures each year. That way reasonable questions about pay, perks and bonus for managers is in the open.

    5. Include the public in on negotiations with state employees. They are the ones paying the bills. They would also have a better understanding of what is important to state employees.

    6. Have more state wide companies air their budgets, pay practices and benefits philosophy. The same would result.

    More later.....

  • (Show?)

    Reading this thread has fascinated me. I wrote the initial post, and the column it presents, not to argue the pub employee compensation one way or another (disclosure: I've held PERS positions for a total of about 12 years and am Tier-1 vested). I wrote it to see where views among antagonists on this issue might overlap. I write in that vein a lot, not to sing Kumabaya for its own sake, but in an effort to challenge the manipulated polarization that limits what would otherwise be the natural growth of a progressive movement focused on economic justice.
    So when Kari wrote the first comment -- "Sure, not all compensation issues are bunk" - I was encouraged, and questioned my original premise that this issue is too wrapped in passionate ideologies to have thoughtful conversations on the merits. But then the premise was borne out as the thread developed, mostly by commenters who seem to be saying (and straighten me out here if I'm reading you wrong) that validating any public employee compensation complaints is severely naive at best and flacking for the reactionary anti-government crowd at worst. What gets interesting for me here is that I agree more on pub employee issues with those who attacked my post than I do with Kurt, who I think did good service to this thread by listing the perceptions of the anti-pub employee folks. So the column that launched all this (please read it, if you haven't, by going up to the original post) argued nothing in the abstract, but rather laid out the specific of 30% bonuses for public fund managers on top of their $160,000 base pay. The implicit question was: how many of us, regardless of our view on the larger pub employee issues, think there's something screwy here? At its core it's exactly like column's I've written that have essentially asked: regardless of how you see health care reform, how many of us can agree that Hitler mustaches painted on Obama's pictures are stupidly bogus? In each case it's about trying to leave ideologies and blame at the door and having real conversations across politico/philosophic lines, and trying to subvert the power of the Limbaughs and Becks who'd like to keep us from talking. I don't know any other way to build the kind of political majorities that can get things done. If you think it's KUMBAYA, show me something better.

  • jaybeat (unverified)

    Sorry, Jeff, but the destruction of the American middle class is not going to stop, and the ideology responsible for it is not going to stop trying, if we on the progressive side try "to leave ideologies and blame at the door" and make nice. I am very willing to have a conversation and a dialog. I am not willing to not call a lie a lie, a falsehood a falsehood, or a strawman a strawman. For that, I am considered an "antagonist"?

    In my view, complaining about public fund manager bonuses is like demanding that the ER doc focus all of their efforts on your hangnail when you're bleeding to death. Yes, the hangnail is real, and it might even be quite painful, but it is so far down on the priority list that the ONLY reason to talk about it is to DISTRACT from the real issues by DIVIDING natural allies against each other. I do not for a second believe that those doing the distracting and dividing have any interest in an honest exchange of ideas or solving real problems.

    This IS, unfortunately, a lot like the healthcare debate in the US Congress. Dems are bending over backwards, trying to appease and compromise with Republicans, insurance companies and everyone else, while poll after poll shows that the American people are ready for some WAY more radical options than were even on the table BEFORE they started tossing things out in the hopes of appeasing the right. And, of course, the joke's on them because not even so-called moderates like Olympia Snow (who needs Repukes like her when you've got DINOs like Baccus, eh?) will support anything meaningful in the end. Because the GOP and the corporate lobby does not want reform. They will fight it whatever it is. Just like they will vilify public employees no matter how much we compromise, or how much we try and "listen to their concerns" or how many serious proposals we make. Because they don't want to fix anything, they want to polarize, divide, distort and manipulate. And when that doesn't work, they'll lie, cheat and steal, like we saw in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004.

    Yes, I'm on a rant but I don't give a s***. I'm sick and tired of wimpy Dems worried about making the other side feel nice! They don't care how we feel! Shouldn't we know that after 6 years of one-party rule at the Federal level? Heck, we were one more 9/11 away from all being rounded up and sent to FEMA camps! Katrina was a test case of dispersing and destroying a solidly Democratic, African American enclave--and it worked!! I'm sure we would have seen more and worse if they hadn't overreached and allowed reality to intrude on their non-reality-based universe.

    My point is that we should really be thinking about Neville Chamberlain on this one. (Yes, yes, bring up the Nazis and everyone gets hysterical. The right call Obama Hitler so we have to steer clear, despite the fact that the parallels between the Bush era and the rise of the Nazis has been documented by Naomi Klein and others.) I honestly believe that these people are monsters and that we are being dangerously naive if we think they want a dialog and want to work with us to solve problems. They want to destroy us. FDR knew it, and wasn't afraid to say so. Their arguments then are the same as their arguments now. Practically word-for-word.

    In my opinion, the only way it would make sense to talk to these people would be once and if a rational, fact-based alternative to the current leadership of the GOP emerges, one that has enough backbone to tell the crazies to get the hell out, and proves themselves willing to be a solution-oriented partner in governing. Unless and until that time, we are doing them a favor by not treating them like the supposed Communists of the McCarthy era. "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the GOP?" ;-)

    Of course, we can't, shouldn't and wouldn't do that. That's why real Democracies (with a big D) are always so vulnerable. We actually believe in letting people have their say and exchange ideas. Even when some of them don't want to give us the same courtesy, but would instead like to use those freedoms to destroy them.

  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)

    I've been one of the biggest critics of middle management pay, but I would say straight out that I'd have no problem with any bonus, if it were tied to performance. Defining and implementing that would take a revolution.

    The other end of the horse, from mass drug testing for peons, is no performance appraisals. That just means you get a raise. When competency testing went by the wayside, after Carter's more aggressive vision of EEOC was watered down, executive compensation started growing out of bounds.

    Without objective performance appraisal, cronyism is rife. That's what people assume is happening when they hear about bonuses in tough economic times. Kari makes the assumption that they're doing their job and deserve it. The fact of the matter is, we just don't know and have to take it on faith. Faith is in short supply these days.

  • RyanLeo (unverified)


    You are right in that I am unfairly characterizing all Baby Boomers as wealthy. Like every generation, some end up making more than the previous generation, some end up making the same, and some end up making less.

    As for delineating generations, I trust the years set forth by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The generations look like this according to Strauss and Howe:

    Lost Generation (World War 1 Generation) - 1883-1900 Greatest Generation - 1901-1924 Silent Generation - 1925-1945 Baby Boomer - 1943-1960 Generation X - 1961-1981 Millennial AKA Generation Y - 1982-2001 Generation Z - 2001-

    As for my statement concerning the perception of myself and many of my peers that the Baby Boomers have exceeded their parents is a personal perception based on the comparable lack of opportunities for an average high school age student graduating in the 1990s and 2000s.

    Back when my Mom and Dad were graduating high school in the 1960s and 1970s, the United States of America still had a skilled manufacturing economy where a single steel worker could support a family of 4 or more.

    Nowadays, 2 white collar workers struggle just to maintain a middle class lifestyle.

    So in terms of real income and opportunities for those who do not want to live the White Collar "Dilbert" lifestyle, those opportunities have been given to India, the Philippines and China under the sell-out America policies of free trades and the delusional belief in "comparative advantage."

    The only organizations who get a comparative advantage are treasonous multinational corporations who transport living wage jobs and a substantial, skilled blue collar tax base to otherwise, third world bungholes such as China, India, and the Philippines. Those countries were nothing until our politicians started allowing US multinationals to sell out living wage jobs and solid tax bases because they wanted the comparative advantage of "cheap labor."

  • rw (unverified)

    RyanLeo there is a guy running around right now doing seminars and big-dollar conferences who breaks the gens down in much broader year-sweeps. I like yours b/c I feel in its tightness it better fits me and mine. I did NOT get the extremely cheap college the Boomers got with the extremely abundant free funding. Just one small difference. We graduated in considerably more-signifant debt than the ones just before us.

    This guy who is talking about the workplace and mixed generations has me tied in with the more-affluent group just before me. You might want to check it out. I'll find and post the name of the book and the "researcher". It's all the rage these days for managers to read this guys books.

  • gl (unverified)

    "But paying $60,000 to a manager with a decade of experience and a graduate degree is perfectly reasonable."

    Grad degree, 10 years of experience all for $60k? Kinda below reasonable.

  • gl (unverified)

    "But paying $60,000 to a manager with a decade of experience and a graduate degree is perfectly reasonable."

    <h2>Grad degree, 10 years of experience all for $60k? Kinda below reasonable.</h2>

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