Some guy named John Nelson made over 159 grand last year wheeling a bus around the city; and a handful of other city bus drivers made over a hundred grand. The State Journal runs an expose of this sort every couple years, just to ruffle a few feathers.
People act as if these city employees, who are working the system to their advantage, were doing something illegal or immoral. With seniority comes higher pay and first crack at overtime, and the big earners tend to absorb the most overtime.
The last time the paper ran such a story, a couple years ago, pointing out that the city’s highest-paid employee is not the mayor, the fire chief, or the police chief, but a bus driver – there was similar reaction. Lots of “how can this be!” and “it’s just not right!” pushback. There was some clucking about whether it’s safe to allow a bus driver to put in that much overtime, week after week.
I think more than anything else, the reaction among many people is a combination of jealousy – how can a bus driver be “allowed” to earn that much money? – and a sense that the system is out of kilter. How come cops and firefighters, who risk their lives for our safety, don’t make that kind of money?
With so many people out of work and still unable to find a job, I’m sure resentment is a factor for some people reading the paper’s expose.
The paper has run similar “exposes” in 1997, 2003, and 2009. City hall doesn’t care. The unions write the work rules, just the way the UAW did with GM until that model became completely “unsustainable”, to coin a Madison-ism.
If I’m reading the article right, one of the big differences between city employees and private-sector employees is that city workers can “cash-in” unused vacation time. Most folks in the private sector have “use it or lose it” sort of deals: either you actually take you days off, or you lose them. You can’t pile them up, and you can’t cash them in.
Since when is it unusual for public or private sector employees to “work the system” to their own best advantage?
Apparently there’s not enough substance here to cause some alder to demand an investigation, and there’s no evidence that city busses aren’t being operated safely by the drivers who are putting in all the overtime.
Many state and municipal jobs – with a few notable exceptions – start with mediocre pay and benefits, and the payoff is years down the road, in the peak earning years, when salary is competitive and the pension is excellent.
Anyone can apply for these jobs. It’s not like the mayor or department heads are putting their spouses, kids, nieces, or nephews into the jobs.
It’s just General Motors, on a smaller scale. Except we already own the company.