Once upon a time, government workers had lower wages than the private sector. In return for this arrangement, government workers received extra benefits, often in the form of more vacation, an attractive retirement plan and job security. State and municipal safety employees (police, fireman, etc.) were given even more attractive retirement benefits, since the public was told that this was needed to attract qualified individuals in these dangerous jobs.
Everyone was happy with this arrangement because private sector wages were rising, job opportunities were plentiful and government tax revenues were growing to fund these wages and benefits.
Of course this is a fairy tale today. In fact, average government wages began to exceed private sector remuneration in 1980. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011) show government workers have an average annual wage of $51,300 versus $45,200 for private workers. That means that public workers are earning 13.5 percent more than private-sector workers. Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the difference is about 16 percent when benefits were added.
Looking at public safety employees, fatalities are also lower than many other occupations. In 2010, local law enforcement officers experienced a fatality rate of 18.1 per 100,000 and firefighters saw a rate of 9.1/100,000 (2008 data). In contrast, the fatality rate was much higher for people employed in fishing, logging, farming, ranching and even trucking.
It’s time for our elected officials to put public employees at parity with the private sector. It’s a myth that you cannot hire qualified employees at private sector wages and benefits. How many private sector workers are getting the benefits recently posted for a new Half Moon Bay Project Manager? Benefits include a defined pension that allows retirement at 55, a $1,125 month health insurance allowance, 12 days of vacation, 12 days of administrative leave and 14 paid holidays.
Recently the Coastside Fire Protection District board voted 3 to 2 to move toward replacing CalFire with a new department that would have fewer work hours and higher benefits for local firefighters. Most taxpayers don’t mind paying for necessary government services, but they do mind elected officials paying employees more than comparable workers in the private sector.
Les Deman is a Half Moon Bay resident.