Waiting for a Thank You

Imagine how confusing it must be to a unionized public sector worker.  They see on the news all this talk about raising the retirement age from age 65 to 67.  They hear it and they say, “what the heck are they talking about?”

They are confused for good reason.  Because if you are a unionized teacher or administrator and followed the normal education path, you are eligible for full retirement at age 48 or worst case 53.  If you are a police officer, you can retire as young as 40, or worst case 45.

Let those numbers settle in for a minute.  They can retire at age 48, or 40, and receive  60-75% of their base pay, plus get full health care benefits for themselves and their families until the day they die.

Compare that to the average private sector retirement age of 62.  This means that your average person works anywhere from 14 to 22 YEARS LONGER than most unionized public sector workers.

Let’s push the comparison further.  Imagine you are middle manager at Pepsico working in a very intellectually challenging and high pressure job earning $110,000 a year having worked there for 15 years.   You are contributing 15% of your salary (so you are grossing $95,000) to your 401k.  You contribute approximately $195 per month to your medical benefits.  You have 4 weeks of vacation a year, and 5 optional holidays (you can choose between Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Day, etc.). The average work week is 50 hours. You plan to retire at age 62 when you will have enough in your 401k to pay yourself approximately 40% (vs. 60-75%) of what you made when you are working.

Now imagine you are a teacher in my community. Your salary is $131,000 a year after working for 15 years (vs. $110,000 for Pepsico).  You contribute zero dollars to your retirement plan (vs. $15,500).  You pay nothing for your health benefits (vs. $195/month).  You have 14 weeks of vacation (vs. 5 weeks).  Your work week is about 50 hours (likely less, but I will respect the claims of teachers I have spoken with).  You plan to retire at age 52 (vs. 62).  In retirement you will receive 75% of your final salary each year (vs. 40%).

Our unionized public sector workers are obliged to recognize this extreme inequity and sit down at the table with representatives of the citizenry to make appropriate adjustments.  I suppose it would be inflammatory to describe the fact that they don’t do this– in fact that they threaten and fight and occupy and protest to maintain the status quo– as immoral and unethical.  Call it what you will, but any reasonable person should agree that what is happening is extremely unfair and wrong.  America’s average professional private sector worker should not have to fund such generous pay and benefits for others.

Many police officers, teachers, and other unionized public sector workers would read this column and say it is an “attack” on these professions, or that I am disrespecting these professions.  I am attacking not the level of work they do, or their commitment to their professions, or the value of their work.  If I am attacking them, it is only to say “how dare you ask people to pay you like they do, and give you benefits like they do, when their compensation and benefits are so much worse than yours”.

So what is such a worker to do?  I’ll tell you what I would do, and some will say I am crazy or engaging in hyperbole.  But I don’t think so.  I would start a movement among my profession.  I would find other teachers who think like I do, and I would challenge my union.  I would request that they negotiate fair and equitable compensation with those who fund us.  I would speak out publicly in support of fairness in spite of the consequences.

I would also never use the term “public servant” to describe myself until my compensation was fair to that very public I am paid to serve, and that sacrifices their hard earned money to keep me employed.

If you have the desire to see some illustrations, have a look at the link below.  (note, the link doesn’t include teachers, anyone interested in that link may write me).

http://data.lohud.com/labor/retire_form_2010.php

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