Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let's Blame the Unions!

In yet another ginned-up attempt to create the perception that public employees are overpaid, Sen. Mike Parry says that he'll hold hearings on "excessive vacation and sick time payouts" to retiring state employees. Of course, the usual suspects blame organized labor. But if there's a problem with excessive sick leave payouts to state employees, it is with non-union management, not rank-and-file workers.

Image: Entrea Sumatae
The Pioneer Press noted that between 2008 and June 30, 2011, 5600 state employees received $57 million in payment for unused sick leave. In this same timeframe, over 13,400 Minnesota state employees were separated (left their job or retired.) Only 42% of these former employees (5,600) received any sick leave payout. These payouts are concentrated at the top, and many of the recipients are management, not labor. Their assertion that "most take home $10,000 to $30,000" is misleading and dishonest. And the focus on union contracts belies the reality that it's management that gets the lion's share of this benefit.

According to the Pioneer Press's database, of the top 50 recipients of sick time payouts, 46 were non-union management. Of the top 100 recipients, 75 were non-union management in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system or state agencies.

128 MnSCU managers and administrators received sick time payouts from 2008 to June 2011, totalling just over $4 million, an average of about $31,000. Another 294 managers of other state agencies received sick time payouts totalling $6.37 million. This group of 422 non-union workers got $10.38 million, an average of $24,600 each. And that doesn't even include the $92,000 in unused sick time paid out to retiring MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick.

Compare this to other workers (mostly the unionized workforce,) approximately 5150 employees who received $46.61 million in sick leave payouts over that three year period, an average of around $9,000. AFSCME, corrections workers and clerical employees average $4,000 or less. Many of these workers are covered by contracts that require 20 years of service, and mandate that a portion goes into a health care savings account for post-retirement health care costs. $4,000 in post-retirement health care after twenty years of service sure sounds excessive to me!

This episode is typical of right-wing posturing on public employee compensation. First, they conflate union contracts with non-union management compensation in an attempt to blame labor. Second, they lament the highest payouts while denying responsibility for importing that top-heavy compensation model from the private sector. Third, they target middle-class public workers while ignoring the incredible golden parachute payments provided to private sector management and the increasing inequality of income in America.

Elsewhere, Sen. Parry has said that he wants to scrutinize public employee compensation to bring it more in line with the private sector. This is the root of the problem masquerading as the solution. Six figure payouts to the highest paid managers are typical of the private sector compensation model. Let's hope someone points that out during Parry's dog and pony show.

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