Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
I read with interest your comments about “platinum plated pensions”, “runaway pensions”, and the public sector “bargaining groups that have muscled their way via full court political presses on legislators to get what they want.”
I have a pension through my union, Operating Engineers Union Local #3. I’ve made my living in the construction industry as a welder and heavy equipment repairman, and for the past 30 years as a member of Local #3. Every penny in my pension is money that I, personally, have put into it, and trust me: no employers were killed or injured in the process. In fact, during that 30-year period, the family owned business that I worked for expanded from a handful of shops in Northern California to owning every Caterpillar dealership between San Jose and the Canadian border.
The other members of my bargaining unit and I usually negotiated our contract with our employer every three to four years. When times were good, we got an increase in pay. For the last three contracts, due to the on-going recession, we agreed with the company to re-adopt the previous contract and to let our agreement continue unchanged with no pay increase.
When we did get an increase in our hourly rate, my co-workers and I voted to decide how that money would be allocated; how much would go to pay for our retirement health care benefits, how much would go to our pension, and what would end up on our pay checks. Our pension fund is, of course, invested in the same stock market as your 401k, and is subject to the same losses and occasional gains.
My guess is that public sector workers, law enforcement personnel, teachers, and firefighters bargain collectively and allocate whatever pay increases they might receive in much the same way, and what is wrong with that?
Maybe it’s the word “public” that confuses the argument. I think we’ve all seen some jerk at the DMV office telling an employee “You work for me! I pay your salary!” That same attitude seems to underlie much of the discussion about public sector employees, and their salaries, benefits, and pensions. It’s as if they should be allowed to earn no more pay or benefits than what the average citizen earns because they are “public” employees, different, somehow, from “private” employees.
Public employees are not public property. They have spent decades negotiating their pay and benefits with savvy and powerful state officials of both parties who are not easily steamrolled, and are entitled to whatever they have bargained for and gained over the years. I would encourage anyone reading this to go to work for a union employer, or pursue a union affiliated profession. You won’t regret it.
June 4, 2012