New York Times article. I’ve lived in this area for over 20 years, and thought I saw it all in terms of scams and sweetheart deals, orchestrated by both unions and individuals. The terms of the LIRR labor contract are astonishing, and cannot be excused by management’s claim that it had to give in or face strikes. The Railroad Retirement Board appears either totally inept or crooked. But the biggest problem the story points out may have been lost amid the more spectacular ones — the fact that public employee pensions are based on an average of the three or five highest earnings years. Not base salary, but actual earnings, which causes employees to scramble to accrue as much overtime as they can toward the end of their careers, since they know it will be reflected in higher pension payments for the rest of their lives. Their bosses often all too willingly comply, whether the overtime is truly necessary or not. I haven’t seen any figures on this, but I am willing to bet that revising the pension laws so that pension amounts are calculated on the base salary only of the highest earning years would save state and local governments tens of millions of dollars in overtime and pension costs, without a discernible decrease in the level of services rendered to the public.
I recently revisited this story, and read several of the hundreds of readers’ comments. The majority were of the tone “why are you concerning yourselves with this, given the overcompensation of corporate executives?” Because this is the flip side of the same problem — unmitigated greed by those who can get away with it.
The best of the reader comments I came across was (to paraphrase): “Who would have guessed that the highest paid person on the car I ride to work every day is the guy who punches our tickets?”
I certainly support fair pay for labor, and I abhor the way many corporations treat their employees. But labor tarnishes its nobility when it emulates the very worst of management. And in both cases, the public pays.