My pay and benefits are contractually agreed upon by a public sector union and the agency that employs me.
I’m part of a unionized work force, but I’m not a member of the union – I choose not to pay dues, but I’m still “protected” by the union as if I was a member.
Here are some of the benefits that the union has obtained on my behalf.
I pay a pittance for incredibly good health care benefits – I think I pay around $100/month, but it’s not really a big expense, so I’m honestly not sure how much the total is. This covers my whole family, regardless of how many children I have. For an additional nominal fee, we get extra dental and eye care.
When I retire, I’ll be able to continue paying a relatively low rate for these “Cadillac” benefits. I’ll also get a pension in addition to (what’s left of) social security and my own savings. Our 401k contributions are matched more generously than most private employers.
I’ve gotten a pay raise every year I worked for government. I’ve also gotten promoted most years. My salary has gone up 2.5 times in the 8 years I’ve been working for government. This increase is unusual – it’s largely the result of promotions. (I am an excellent bureaucrat, after all). However, even the average employee seems to get at least a 4% salary increase every year and if you stick around long enough, you’ll get a promotion or two now and then.
I get about 20 days of vacation per year and another 13 sick days. Most people who have been here longer get 26 days of vacation. Almost everyone works on some sort of adjusted schedule that effectively gives us more vacation. For example, in a bi-weekly period, some people work eight nine-hour days, one eight-hour day and take one day off. Others work eight ten-hour days and take two days off (though this is frowned upon in many groups). Still others accumulate additional time off for any amount of time that they work beyond eight hours on any given day. For example, if I work nine hours today, I’ve earned one hour of vacation that I can take anytime. We can carry over 30 days of vacation from one year to the next. Supervisors basically have to let employees take any vacation beyond this amount at the end of the year. One guy I know at another agency basically took off the entire month of December last year because he had so much vacation.
I’ve known people who work strange schedules as well. For example, I knew a woman who came in at 6:00am and left at 2:30pm every day (eight hours with a 30 minute lunch break).
Perhaps most importantly, the union makes it very difficult for anyone to be fired. For all intents and purposes, this means that we have near total job security.
These benefits are very good and they’re very hard to value.
I had two job offers from private companies this year. In both cases, they offered to increase my salary significantly (let’s say on the order of 15-20%). However, in both cases I think I would have been financially worse off after adjusting for the value of these benefits. I would have been much worse off once you adjust for the non-monetary benefits. For example, it’s worth a lot to me that I have a job from which I will not be fired that will pay for all of my family’s needs, I can actually take vacation, and I get to see my kid every day by 5:30. When my wife and I sat down to discuss how much this was worth to us, we came up with a very high number (around $100,000). Part of the reason for this is that I get paid very well already. If my salary was more mediocre, it might be worth leaving to for a significant increase in salary, but in order to make significantly more money than I currently do, I’d have to work a lot more than I currently do.
My feelings on the current situation in Wisconsin and around the country are somewhat divided. On one hand, I recognize that public sector unions have negotiated employment contracts which governments cannot afford. On the other hand, governments have – in many cases – signed contracts. I’ve turned down other jobs based on my current employment contracts. My family has decided where to live based on these contracts, etc. The fact that the government may have been stupid when it signed the employment contract isn’t my fault. There’s a process for solving problems like this and the process should be followed.
The truth is that many governments are bankrupt under an honest accounting system. The solution is proper accounting and bankruptcy. Bring the liabilities associated with employment contracts honestly on to state balance sheets and begin the bankruptcy process if the state’s liabilities exceed its assets. Employees would become creditors and get paid from bankruptcy proceeds. Any other solution is dishonest.