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.
As I advance in age, I am exposed more and more to the health care industry, despite having enjoyed relatively good health until recently. As a retired New York State employee, I am blessed with excellent health insurance that covers most doctor visits, medical tests and procedures, as well as prescription drugs, with only a relatively modest co-pay. Here are a few observations:
First, it appears that many of our health problems are what a friend of mine calls “diseases of affluence.” More appropriately, they should be called “diseases of lifestyle,” since they affect people of all socioeconomic strata. A lot of these are directly influenced by government policies. For instance, our auto-centric physical infrastructure minimizes the opportunities for and pleasures of walking and cycling, and cannot help but contribute to obesity and other problems based on lack of physical activity. Our government subsidies to cane sugar and corn (the main ingredient of high fructose corn syrup) help make junk food and sugared soft drinks attractively priced. This is especially so for the poor, since the SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) allows their purchase with SNAP benefits. If we collectively spent more on complete streets that were friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as cars, how much could we save on health care (not to mention on school transportation)? How about if we stopped subsidizing sugar? I think it would be worth a try.
For all the criticism leveled against it, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has achieved something great — it has shifted the dialog from whether health care insurance should be extended to many of those who don’t have it to how the present system should be replaced or improved. Neither Trump nor his minions are suggesting that those who obtained health insurance through Obamacare should lose it, meaning that they recognize that there is no going back on government’s commitment to growing numbers of its citizens. Whether things actually get better or worse remains to be seen, but at least no one is talking a bout a pre-Obamacare “reset.” To me, that is yuge.
Here’s a follow-up by the Times on the LIRR situation. I don’t know who’s more overpaid – the featherbedded workers or the impotent, bloated management. Great situation.
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.