Wisconsin's public employees are protesting loudly today against proposed cuts to their benefit packages and union bargaining capability. But I'm not sympathetic in the least. In fact, I wish we'd take similar steps in Washington State.
If you look at the salary survey chart in this report by the Washington Department of Human Resources, you'd think State employees are grossly underpaid when compared to other public agencies and the private sector. But even if pay rates may lag behind (if the survey is accurate), the benefits public employees receive far outdistance anything the private sector offers.
See this page (19) of the Washington State Employment Benefits Survey published in March 2009 by a consulting firm for the Department of Employment Security. You'll see that in the private sector:
- 63.3 percent of full-time private sector employees get paid vacation leave;
- 37.8 percent get paid sick leave;
- 60.2 percent get paid holiday leave; and
- 18.8 percent get undesignated paid leave days.
All full time public employees get paid vacation, sick leave, holiday leave. Vacation for full time employees runs between 12 and 22 days, depending on length of time employed by an agency.
We pay our state public employees an average of $7,888 to $10,142 a year not to work, according to figures provided by the Sunshine Review. The Review obtained records of public employee compensation for 2007 under our State Open Public Records Act, because the public's money covers the cost of these wages. I did some math to figure out we pay public employees an average of:
- $4,882 per month
- $58,592 per year
- $28.17 an hour.
If you add up the 11 paid holidays, 12 paid sick days, and the minimum 12 days of paid vacation time that State employees receive, there are 35 days of the year that state employees get paid but are not on the job. Multiply that by 8 hour days, at the average rate of pay, and that's a $7,888 a year benefit. If they've been employed by the state a long time, they could earn 22 vacation days a year, bringing that annual benefit of paid non-working days to $10,142 a year, average, per employee.
They also get paid for jury duty, bereavement leave, and military leave; they get medical, dental, vision, and life insurance benefits; and they can be reimbursed for college degrees and classes taken for professional development. And of course, that doesn't include the generous pension plans.
Furthermore, under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, an employee who has worked for in the public sector and made college loan payments for 10 years may have the remaining debt erased.
Also, public employee salaries are really hard to cut. In the private sector, a business hitting hard economic times tells its employees it's time to tighten their belts, and reduces wages and benefits as needed. In the public sector, wages may go up in good times, but they rarely go down again.
When I worked in the public sector, I knew I had it good. But many of my co-workers lamented, "We'd be paid so much more if we worked in the private sector!" Obviously, they were not very well-informed. Isn't it time we stopped buying in to their misinformation, and making State budget cuts that matter?