I was shocked when the New York Times exposed the abuses by Long Island Railroad employees of their disability benefits, as well as provisions of its labor contracts that no sane company would accept . Now, perhaps less surprisingly, the New York Post reveals egregious time and leave abuse, allowing some individual employees to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime for hours they didn’t work. While some of the workers were able to retire before facing disciplinary action and recoupment of the stolen funds, the taxpayers who subsidize the railroad — already victimized by the railroad’s paying the crooked employees for hours not worked — will continue to pay their crookedly inflated pensions. If the abuse can’t be stopped (I give Governor Cuomo credit for trying to stop it, albeit belatedly), a big step toward curbing it would be to disallow overtime hours to be part of pension calculations.
This Times Union story is disheartening, but not surprising. It’s about legislators hiring rich cronies for part time jobs that pay little but provide State-subsidized health insurance, which is top-of-the-line and costs the employee very little (full disclosure — as a full-time, non-political State employee, and now as a State retiree, I too enjoy this benefit).
What the story doesn’t address, and what should be of broader concern, is the pricing policy for employees and retirees, who are required to pay a share of the cost of their policies. There are two prices — for individuals with no dependents, and a higher family price for those with any number of qualified dependents. Thus, the employee with a spouse and no children pays the same premium as the employee with a spouse and 15 children. I do not know whether the cost to the State is the same regardless of the number of the employees’ dependents, but I do know that State employees with small families are paying a lot more per person for their health insurance than State employees with large families. While this policy is great for State employees who have large families, it’s not so good for those making up the difference. Even worse, it’s not a transparent policy — those who are making up the difference are not aware of who they are or how much they are paying.
I’m not saying the policy is indefensible; for example, where government jobs sometimes pay less than the private sector, the family insurance plan may make it practicable for someone with a large family who is an attractive candidate to take a lower-paying State job, which could benefit the public. And it is a way to make health care more affordable to those with larger families and, presumably, less disposable income (though that may not be the case of the part timers in the TU story, one of whom claimed a net worth of over $8 million). What I am saying is that it also presents apparent fairness issues and, as the TU story indicates, an incentive for abuse. Open discussion of the issue — one that most taxpayers probably are not aware of — might benefit everyone.
This recent column in the New York Times summarizes some studies on charters, and sheds some interesting light. Apparently, the charters that do the best (and not all even do well) are those that stress the basics — longer days, more support for teachers and students and imposition of high standards.
Aside from reflecting what appears to me to be common sense, these values contrast with those present in many conventional public schools, where shorter work days and more insulation from accountability are the goals of the teachers, as expressed through collective bargaining and political action (many individual teachers put in extra time and strive for excellence, even after achieving tenure). While I understand teachers’ perceived need for some job protections, and while I believe most tenure “abuses” are caused by management that does not terminate probationary teachers who are unlikely to be successful, there still is a disconnect between the positions of advocates of traditional education and those of the best, successful charters.
If competition produces better results for all, and if charters are to fulfill their original mission as laboratories in which successful teaching methods can be developed and tested, both systems need support.
PEF, one of the leading state-worker unions, is constantly berating the State for contracting out work that it claims should be performed better and at lower costs by its members. Here’s a Times Union item that reports the union representing some PEF legal workers has complained that PEF is contracting out some of their work. Especially ironic is that the contract employees will be representing full dues-paying PEF members, while PEF’s own employees will be representing agency shop payers who have opted out of union membership, a group about which it presumably cares less.
This little item in the Albany Times Union (the longer story linked to in the item is behind the paper’s pay wall) about the burden of rising pension costs is unusual only because of the employer — NYSUT, the teachers’ union. NYSUT’s own management is clearly aware of the burdensome costs of benefits for its own employees, and its officers appear to be willing to take a cut while they negotiate similar cuts with their employees’ union.
Of course, NYSUT’s role as bargaining representative for its members is different from its role as an employer, and it is charged by law to represent its members’ interests. In playing that role in contract negotiations, I don’t think NYSUT would be receptive to the concept of givebacks by its members.
What I suspect I won’t see is any of the school districts asking for the kind of givebacks NYSUT appears to believe warranted with respect to its employees (and leading the way by imposing them on their own staff). One reason for public employee unions’ great success has been the lack of aggressive counter parties representing the taxpayers in contract negotiations, though I am sure the School Boards’ Association would argue to the contrary. There are many reasons for this: the understandable urge (especially when spending other peoples’ money) to show appreciation for the good work teachers do, the large financial and political clout of the unions, and the fact that the better the deal for teachers, the better the deal for management, who must of course, be paid more than the rank and file in the trenches. Of course, in a competitive market for teachers, salary and benefits must be competitive, but smart management would make sure they were regardless of union pressure.
Recently, a caller to one of our local public broadcasting stations expressed the dilemma of wanting to support local public education but wanting to remain in his house, which was becoming increasingly less affordable due to rising school taxes, among other things. The moderator pooh-poohed him with the usual response — “nothing’s too good for our kids.”
Like that caller, I see both sides, and I certainly don’t want to return to the days of exploitation of teachers. However, I wonder who is representing this taxpayer, and how strongly. Only when both sides have equal bargaining power can a reasonable balance of interests be struck.
This startling story in yesterday’s New York Daily News shows an almost criminal disregard by our Legislature for the taxpayers’ dollar. It’s another example of how wastefulness or ineptitude by government can turn liberals into conservatives. Those who would like government to do more ultimately decide that our government should not do more, because it either won’t do the job well or will do it at an unreasonably high cost (some of the overage going to the “corruption tax”).
Consequences of governmental inefficiency are unmet needs, or privatization of traditional government functions. Traditional public education in New York is threatened by charters and alternatives because of its high cost and mediocre results, accountability for which proves elusive. People vote with their feet and leave the State for places with lower taxes and services that are not appreciably worse than they get here (for example, I can’t think of anywhere, including the deep South, that has roads in worse condition than those in our area).
While people with differing ideologies can and do differ as to the scope of government’s role in our lives, there should be absolutely no disagreement among honest citizens that what government is called upon to do should be done as efficiently and effectively as possible, for the benefit of all, not special interests. Maybe that is an idea that all citizens can support, putting aside their ideological differences until after it is achieved.
Some good advice I once received was to the effect that you’ve got to be both a big picture and a little picture person to succeed. In too many cases, ignoring the little picture can detract from a customer’s or client’s perception of the big picture. A recurring and, for me, frustrating example of this is the labeling of the little containers of hair care and other products one finds in hotels. Often, as in the illustration below, the size, shape, color and labeling of the containers for shampoo and conditioner is exactly the same, except for the actual word “Shampoo” or “Conditioner” in microscopic print.
The one place where most of us have poor vision (because we are not wearing our glasses) is where we use these products — the shower or tub. It makes me wonder if the designer of these packages ever really used them. I know that if I end up using the conditioner (or, even worse, body lotion) on my hair first, I’ll be slightly annoyed with my hotel stay, no matter how nice everything else might be. How hard would it be to make these packages in different colors, or with a large S or C on the front?
Another problem I often find in hotels is slow running or non-running drains. I’m pretty sure that housekeepers run the water in both sinks and showers/tubs when cleaning hotel rooms. Shouldn’t they be encouraged to report slow or clogged drains to maintenance so they can be fixed before the next guest arrives?
The biggest peeve I have with hotels is the mandatory “resort” or other fees they impose, either for things and services you don’t want, that you would rather be able to purchase a la carte or that were, or should be, provided in the basic cost of the room. Added mandatory fees that allow a business to advertise one price but require the customer to pay a different price should be illegal. If a hotel does not want to include wi fi in its basic rate, that’s OK with me, as long as it’s disclosed. But don’t surprise me when I arrive by making me pay extra for wi fi or anything else if I don’t want it or need it.