Most respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll support changes in public employee compensation that have been proposed by the Unshackle Upstate coalition of businesses and trade organizations.
Unshackle Upstate released a report last week that examines differences in pay and benefits between private- and public-sector employees. The report contends that across upstate, average salaries for state and local government employees are 10 percent higher than the private-sector average. New York also leads the nation in per capita contributions to public-employee retirement, the report states.
In response to these findings, the coalition proposed reforming the Taylor Law, which guarantees that public employees’ fringe benefits cannot be changed unless both sides in labor negotiations agree, and its Triborough Amendment, which provides that employee pay and benefits increase indefinitely under the terms of an expired contract.
Public employee union officials have argued the current Taylor Law provisions are needed to ensure public employers bargain in good faith.
The Unshackle Upstate proposal also calls for the creation of a Tier 5 in the retirement system for newly hired public employees, shifting from the current defined-benefit pension system to a defined-contribution approach—similar to a 401(k) plan.
Roughly 730 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Sept. 21 and 22.
Do you support or oppose Unshackle Upstate’s proposed changes to the Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment?
Do you support or oppose creation of a Tier 5 in the retirement system for newly hired public employees?
Here are some readers’ comments:
This is a no-brainer! Why are taxes so high? This is truly one of the major reasons. (Just don’t ask a public servant!)
It is a question of priorities. Do you want the very best teachers to teach your children and the generations to come, or do you want to have fewer taxes coming out of your wallet and a mediocre education for those children? As a teacher for 35 years, I know that knowledge is power, and teachers impart that knowledge to their students. Reducing teacher benefits is not the answer to the budget crisis in Albany.
—Robert Potter, Victor Central School
This action is long overdue! Everything has changed since the Taylor Law and Triborough (amendment) were enacted. Since the public employees are no longer undercompensated, it is time to bring some sensibility to the system.
—J.A. DePaolis, Consultative Services
Public employee salaries/benefits, on average, continue to exceed the private sector, at least within NYS. To add insult to injury, while the people who pay these salaries/benefits are struggling during this financial crisis, our public employees refuse to consider any cut-backs or reductions. I think the time has come to re-balance this equation, and bring "our employees" back to the real world. I suggest their compensation, both in terms of salaries and benefits, be closely tied to that of private industry, and I would eliminate automatic increases and incorporate annual performance/merit reviews.
Increases should be earned, not mandated. Otherwise, where is an employee’s incentive to be effective and productive? Conversely, an employer who does not offer appropriate increases and benefits will quickly lose valuable employees, and the business will suffer as a result. It is a self-balancing system. How can anyone, in good conscience, accept an across-the-board increase when they know that there is no money to pay for it? This type of “you owe me” mentality represented by many unions is ultimately self-injuring due to its unsustainability. In the case of a government employee, these unrealistic salaries and benefits are negatively impacting all of us.
—Stephanie Tolan, House Vernacular
Unshackle Upstate made a wonderful first step in identifying some of the vast differences between protected government and unprotected private-sector employees. Government employees have no concept of what most private-sector employees face every day. On top of the very real possibility of layoff, private-sector employees face annual reductions in benefits, increased benefit costs, the disappearance of pensions, cuts in compensation (i.e., furloughs, pay cuts, etc.) and no real possibility that this will ever improve. While government employees retire with generous pensions after much less than the 40-plus years private-sector employees must put in to survive. Government employees are also completely oblivious to the issues their neighbor’s face not having a pay increases for years, seeing their workloads increase, having their plants close, etc. It would be fascinating to calculate the life-time earnings (i.e., pay, benefits, pensions, etc.) for private and public sector employees. I expect there is a massive difference, particularly if life-time earnings are compared to the total number of hours worked. One huge simplifying assumption that is needed in this calculation is the person works at a single employer for their entire career. In the private sector this is essentially impossible due to the layoffs and reorganizations that are regularly done. And without factoring in these changes it would not account for the pay cuts private sector employees take whenever they need to find another job, something else government employees can’t comprehend. I sincerely hope there is a taxpayer revolt by private sector employees given that we are paying for a lifestyle government employees enjoy that we can’t comprehend because it is wildly better than anything we will ever experience and we have to pay for each year through our taxes.
—Bill Wyatt, Fairport
Nothing is guaranteed in life, and to have us, the taxpayers, pay out of our pockets to add to the public retirement fund at a time when our own retirement savings has been decimated just adds salt to our wounds. Completely unacceptable.
—Mark DiFelice, DiFelice Development Inc.
We have now evolved to a point in this state and country where average taxpayers are having to work well beyond the age of 65 in order to retire on a decimated 401(k) plan plus Social Security. We do this in order to pay for public union employees to retire at 55 or 60 with retirement benefits way beyond what we could ever hope for. It amazes me that non-union taxpayers are now unrepresented in the state and federal government and are required to give ever more money to the state. People who pay no taxes are much better represented.
It always struck me as odd that government employees had such generous benefits, and that these benefits seemed immune to the financial problems regularly plaguing the private sector. Government employees seemed immune from benefit cut backs, such as those recently at GM, Kodak and Xerox. When the economy is good we all should gain and when the economy is bad we all should lose. In the words of a presidential adviser, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste." Unfortunately with the bailout funds NYS won’t need to make the necessary cuts in education and other government agencies to bring our NYS spending in line with our NYS revenue. A contract is a contract. But when a private company goes bankrupt, it can renegotiate its contracts with its employees. If NYS goes into insolvency it should be able to renegotiate its contracts with its employees as well. That’s why I’m such a strong supporter of the NYS Constitutional Convention with Rudy Giuliani and Andrew Cuomo of the NYS Constitutional Convention.
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
Pay and benefits do not increase indefinitely, only previously negotiated incremental pay scale increases that take affect based on longevity. What they are really saying is there should be no collective bargaining, as in the majority of the private sector, so that all workers real wages continue to decline, continues to decline except the bosses.
I think it is important to all be on the same playing field, especially when it comes to New York State monetary and taxing issues.
—Frank J. Muto
I also feel that the taxation of pensions in New York should be the same, whether you are a public retiree or someone drawing from his/her own IRA or 401(k). To have public pensions be exempt from New York income tax is not fair. A public retiree who collected trash collects a guaranteed pension (funded by the taxpayers) and it is New York-tax free. A private retiree of a refuse collection company collects on his IRA that <i>he</i> funded, and it is subject to New York tax and it may run out. Tax all or tax none, but be consistent.
—Tom Walpole, CPA
As an auditor, then accountant, in the not-for-profit sector for decades, I have seen the salaries and benefits of this work force equal, then pass, those of the for profit sector. Yet politicians have ignored these facts and continue to pile on this monetary burden to the taxpayers of this state. It’s time for change.
The Taylor Law needs to be amended, if for no other reason than to create more equality between private-sector and public-sector employees. It’s been stated previously but worth repeating that public employees are paid from taxpayer funds. None of them produce a product or have any vested interest in affecting the kind of productivity that private employers demand from all their workers. I suggest that the public service employees union sit in on negotiations for a real union contract sometime and learn what the real world can and cannot afford to pay, in both salaries and benefits. It’s not easy to be profitable these days. Something that public service unions don’t even have to consider. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Let’s ALL sing from the same songbook.
Total compensation, including pension, health care and retiree benefits, has to be counted when comparing to private sector. Only then is a comparison valid.
—Jim Haefner, Pittsford
The sad part about all this is that there has to be an organization like Unshackle Upstate in the first place! We already have a slew of politicians supported by staff and advisors that are supposed to figure this out and make it work. All handsomely paid with great benefits. They feed so regularly at the public trough that they’ve forgotten to respect the hardworking taxpayers that fill it. Don’t lose focus on the problem and blame the employees….directly hold accountable the clowns that create the system in the first place. This includes the unions that are milking our state dry. The first step, if any of this makes sense to you, is to find a candidate that reflects your view and vote. From president to legislator, every election. The result of the attitude that "my vote doesn’t count" is what we’re experiencing now. Responsibility; accountability, it’s simple!
The recent Democrat & Chronicle editorial stated that public employees start at pay levels above the marketplace. Teachers with their master’s degree start below what the free market would pay!
—W. Busch, Churchville-Chili School District
Until the latest economic crisis, I had no idea that all public employees have such wonderful packages, which cost us overburdened New York taxpayers dearly. I definitely support any efforts to bring these back in line with us "private" workers.
—Hutch Hutchison, In T’Hutch Ltd.
The questions are not fair. The Taylor Law and Triborough Amendments should have been separated. While I support one, I oppose the other. The Tier 5 proposal is not in the interest of the workers, since it puts them in the position that we, who have 401(k) plans, just went through, losing a significant amount of our savings. It is also not in the interest of businesses. Well paid customers with steady jobs have kept the economy going, providing reliable customers. Why does dusiness want to cut its own throat? Why complain about the income of workers, when business, including Unshackle Upstate, is first to stand in line for government hand-outs (in cash, loans and tax relief). Less short-(sightedness) and selfishness on both sides would help everyone.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
Both proposals by Unshackle Upstate make complete sense and economically and morally justified. They will not come about as long as the elected politicians remain in the pockets of the public employee unions especially CSEA and NYSUT.
—Jim Weisbeck, East Bloomfield
Mess with the retirement system for teachers and the education system will fall apart. The only attractive monetary aspect of teaching is the retirement. Take that away and you will get lousy teaching candidates and a poor education for our children.
—Chris Schoff, SHO Pools
It seems to me that Unshackle’s name is a cleverly disguised ruse. They seem intent on shackling workers with poverty. Labor history testifies that, barring obligation through law or collective bargaining, management greed will produce a race to the bottom for workers while generating soaring profits at the top tier (Wall Street?). Unfortunately for the rich, our economy grows best when money flows to workers who spend it where the earn it. The survey tells me that the private sector is under compensated, not the reverse. The public-sector costs can be satisfied when adequately compensated workers pay their taxes. Raise private-sector wages and benefits first. Then tweak the public sector.
—Rustin Bennett, IBEW Local 86
Is it any coincidence that New York leads the nation in taxes and leads the nation in unions? Correlate this, if you can, to the fact that New York trails the nation in economic growth, high school graduation rates, civilian retention, etc. It all goes back to the laws passed in Albany over the last 20 years. It is time that someone checked the water supply in Albany; obviously it is contaminated with hallucinogens.
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester
Fair pay and good benefits are essential to maintaining Monroe County’s middle class. Public employees—such as teachers, police officers and highway crew workers—are our neighbors. They fuel our economy by eating in local restaurants, shopping in retail stores and hiring local mechanics to fix their cars. Destroying Monroe County’s middle class by reducing pay and benefits hurts everyone. Unshackle Upstate’s proposal is merely an attempt by a few wealthy businesspersons to tilt the playing field by denying public employees fair wages and a dignified retirement. No one likes paying taxes, but remember: Quality schools, affordable public colleges and universities, safe streets and a responsive government that clears snow and ice and answers our 911 calls come at a cost. Unshackle Upstate is merely seeking to shirk its responsibility to pay a fair share for vital services, while demonizing public employees—my neighbors and yours—for having the gall to work hard and expect fair pay and benefits in return.
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT
This is long overdue. Wage and benefit packages and work rules for public-sector employees are out of control and in desperate need of change. They no longer emulate those of private business and industry, the model that unionization of the public employee sector was supposed to achieve. Something is drastically wrong when one of every seven jobs in this state is a government job. Those serving the public should have parity with those they serve. They have far surpassed that because of political and union "inbreeding," and it needs to fixed, and fixed fast. Those of us in the private sector who support this Ponzi scheme have had enough of this.
—George Thomas, Ogden
The Triborough Amendment applies only to STEP increases agreed upon in a prior bargaining agreement. It DOES NOT apply to all members covered by said agreement. For instance, once a person is hired, they receive a contractually negotiated starting pay. At say, six months of employment their base salary increases to X at 24 months to Y. The Triborough says those increases, at the rates provided in the expired contract go forward. The implication in the media is that all members of the bargaining unit get raises. This is not true.
—Bill Mohrman, Henrietta Professional Firefighters, IAFF local 3738 member
The Taylor Law and Triborough Amendment are as outdated as tenuring teachers in the public school system. These laws and provisions do nothing more than provide cover for employees who choose not to be judged on the merit of their performance. It is a recipe for underachievement and runaway labor costs.
—R. Tarantello, Tarantello & Associates
As an educator in the state of New York, I oppose the changes that are being presented. I think it is wrong to try and compare working in schools and education to other businesses. Education in America is becoming increasingly challenging as schools are expected to solve social ills. It is also becoming increasingly a target for groups to criticize. We measure success in test scores when each student is not coming to the table with the same background and experiences. We don’t measure whether a student who rarely came to school, now comes regularly because of a teacher’s interventions…we don’t measure whether a student who once managed all situations aggressively, is now using words to communicate his displeasure. … These are only a few situations which educators have to manage and yet we are only measured in the paper by our test scores.
—Elizabeth O’Brien, speech pathologist, Greece Central Schools
Current Government Entitlements cannot continue. When I was a kid, if someone got a job at Kodak—it was Kodak for life. Put your 35 to 45 years in and retire with a pension and health care for life. Look how much things have changed. Pensions are now 401(k)s and companies have been forced to modify retirees’ health care benefits; that is unless someone has a state or federal pension. Many state employees are able to retire after 20 years; not so in the public sector. Not only is the current system unreasonable today, it’s unsustainable.
Teaching is one of the most important professions an individual can undertake. The hours are long and the pay is not nearly what professionals in this field should be paid. This is my 39th year. I estimate that I have averaged just above the minimum wage per hour over the course of my career. I have definitely NOT been overpaid.
—Max Robertson, Greece Central School District
New York State is out of control. This is not news. Apathy and complacency by the public, and stooge like behavior of the elected officials is also not news anymore. A tax revolt as seen in recent "Tea parties" and the “9 to 12 rallies” is news. HealthCare town meetings are true grass roots displays of frustration in our political leadership and not “organized” media events. But our local media ignores it, and our elected politicians belittle its impact. The public unions and the down state Democrats bear the responsibility for runaway public sector spending, as do our local myrmidon like officials. Next election, I will vote against any politician holding office. I recommend the political parties drop the hacks from the ballot, and put concerned citizens on. Let’s work together and change New York before all the entrepreneurs and private sector employers leave.
—Dennis Kiriazides, Xerox, retired
There are continual efforts to diminish the benefits of professional teachers. Who will be left to teach our children if the compensation is not commensurate with the magnitude of the profession and level of education? The importance and priority of education is so low as indicated by the lack of sufficient funding by governmental organizations, the increased public scrutiny over teacher salary and benefits, and the continued connection of property tax to school district funding. How important is the profession of education to society when we stand to lose quality professionals by further compromising their compensation?
Leadership has to start at the top in any organization, and our state government has to lead by accepting these minimum standards (where did the concept of "Public Servant" go—can anyone in government define it for me?). Government greed and deception are destroying NY’s economy; businesses and citizens are moving out due to outrageous property taxes, public schools are a disgrace, Labor Unions have demeaned the work ethic, continue to erode productivity, and destroy young workers incentive for excellence robbing them of them of the self confidence created by knowing a job was well done—it’s very sad as NY was once a great state.
—Len Morrell, Trident Precision
I do not think that all public employees should be grouped together. An article I read in the D and C cherry-picked circumstances from several different public employees benefit packages. Such a comparison is not accurate. Teachers do not have the retirement benefits of policemen or firemen or their health care packages or sick day benefits. Compare the benefits accurately. What does someone in the private sector make who has an undergraduate and a master’s degree and 25 years experience? Probably a lot more than a teacher.
The Taylor Law information you present is one-sided. The Triborough Amendment also prohibits public employees from striking. There lies the balance between management and labor. Management might never come to the table to continue bargaining without the provisions of the Triborough Amendment. The outrage about public pensions is unfair. Public employees typically take lower pay than individuals in the private sector with equivalent or greater education and experience. The private sector didn’t offer to give back to public employees when their salaries were so much higher.
—Beverly Engel, West Irondequoit Teachers’ Association
The Taylor Law prohibits public employees from strikes or other concerted stoppage of work. If you undo the Taylor Law then vital services (education of children, garbage collection, police and fire protection) may be jeopardized.
—Tom Gigliotti, Greece Central School District
Public employees, such as teachers, have chosen careers in service to others. We have worked hard not only in chosen profession, but toward creating and maintaining strong labor unions that have helped to build our strong economy and ensure workers rights. Public employees are the backbone of this nation. Through service, commitment and planning we have made good lives for ourselves while helping others. Renegade groups, such as Unshackle Upstate, gain support from disgruntled individuals who support the pilfering and theft from legitimately earned retirement resources to appease their own sour grapes attitudes. They want uniform retirement funding while at the same time oppose any governmental changes appearing even remotely socialistic. Go figure.
—Frances A. Leo, East Irondequoit Teachers Association
Unfortunately people have forgotten why these systems are in place. Public employees receive these benefits because we serve the public while making far less than people in the public sector with similar credentials. I am a teacher with a master’s degree, yet I am paid less than people with no degree. People refer to our time off. People outside of education do not realize how stressful teaching is. If teachers did not have two months off in the summer No one would make it past ten years due to burn out. The Taylor law is in place to protect public employees, my school district will not negotiate a new contract we have been under the same contract since 2000. Under the proposed changes the district could do whatever they want to us. With the logic being proposed it would be like any public employee going to work and finding out there boss is going to change their pay scale and give them minimum wage because they feel that is all you deserve. I understand that times are tough and people are out of work but it is a shame that some believe that a public employees pay is the reason they are in their position. It is another break down in respect for your fellow man. "I don’t like my position so who can I blame."
—Stephen Ladley, Greece Central School District
My former brother-in-law retired from the state at age 55 with full benefits and a HUGE retirement package. I will have to work until I am at least 65 and possibly longer depending on the economy and the state of my 401(k) and then try to subsist on social security and my meager 401K (that was decimated by the way). I fully support these actions, they are too long in coming.
I am an educator. I’ve worked hard to make my job a profession. With political influence abound, no teachers could be safe and the profession will suffer.
—Lynn Ellingwood, Brighton Central School District
Why would ANYONE want to have their pension in 401(k)-type plans? Look what a disaster that has been for people who invested their money, hoping for a financially secure retirement! Instead of taking pensions away from public employees, who historically have worked for many years at salaries lower than those of private employees, we should be working on improving pensions for all employees. The business leaders in Unshackle New York were silent when the employer contribution to the New York State Retirement systems was at historic lows. To talk about "reform" of the Taylor Law is disingenuous (to be polite). The proposal would allow unilateral vacating of a negotiated contract. Which member of the business world would allow their rights under contract law to be diminished or extinguished? As far back as the decisions of our first Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall in the early 1800s, contracts have been protected bylaw and the U.S. Constitution.
Something needs to be done to lower the cost of living and doing business in New York State. Maybe this is one area that can be explored to bring the costs of being a New York State resident more in line with other states in the union.
—Doug Lyon, Lyon Capital Management
As with virtually every business entity, the state’s biggest costs are its employees’ salaries and benefits. Therefore it only stands to reason that the biggest cost savings can be realized by closely controlling the number of employees, their salaries and their benefits. Unfortunately, our spineless senators and assemblymen do not listen and do not respond to the wills of their constituents!
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency, Inc.
I have never lived or worked anywhere else, either in the U.S. or in the world, where public sector remuneration packages outstrip those of the private sector, let alone come close. With such a burgeoning onus, how can NY State ever hope to become solvent again.
—Richard Stevenson, co-founder and CEO, CobbleSoft International
Unshackle Upstate has put together figures to make them say what they wanted them to say. The fact is they have grouped together the highest paid people in the state along with the working class people, doing most of the ground floor and manual work, making it appear as if we are all terribly over paid and get all kinds of free benefits. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Starting pay in any of the normal working pay grades is far below that of the private sector and makes it dam near impossible to hire from the outside because people aren’t willing to take the pay cuts. Their only saving grace is the benefits that will come along with time. The other thing they fail to mention is that we are also taxpayers. We pay taxes, we contribute to our pensions, and we do not receive free health care, as their poll would lead you to believe.
—Daniel McGee, NYSDOT
Public service is less and less of an attractive career option— especially as Johnny-one-note, cut-cut-cut organizations like Unshackle Upstate do their best to portray state government as a pox instead of a valuable contributor to the life of the state. The answer to the budget problem in Albany is certainly complex, but let’s focus on what services are essential and how to deliver them best. Balancing the budget on the backs of public employees is not the answer; consolidating services and improving their delivery is.
—Martin Nott, O’Keeffe & Co.
As a public school teacher I am required achieve a master level education and in return I receive less than 50k a year. Who in private sector requires such a high level of education and pays that little? As a prior architect in the private sector I received a pay cut to transition into education and was required to receive more schooling. So who gets paid more? Not teachers!
—Michael Ross, teacher, Greece Central School District
We appreciate our public employees. However, the public employee unions have hijacked government in New York State from the majority of taxpayers. The taxpayers are not organized or funded. The benefits of public employees including pension, vacation, holidays, health insurance are extreme; far more than the private sector especially small business. Unions are no longer needed because of the many local, state and federal labor laws which give worker sufficient protection. We need legislators who will show the courage to demand renegotiation of all state employee contracts. If the unions don’t cooperate; start massive layoffs in order to reduce the budget and taxes. If essential services are threatened hire private sector firms to pick up the slack. The private sector is much more efficient. In fact, if Gov. Paterson would use this strategy his popularity would surge.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.
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