Almanac

Viewpoint - April 7, 2010

Guest opinion: Fair wages, pensions for public employees

by Galen Rosenberg

I recently received another e-mail from the group describing itself as supporting "fair and responsible pension reform."

In this message, they quote a Wall Street Journal editorial with data from the CATO institute, both representing their right-wing "libertarian" perspective, of course.

What the "Citizens for Fair and Responsible Pension Reform" want me to conclude from their data is that public sector workers are overpaid ($40/hour in wages and benefits). They want me to conclude that we should lower their pay and benefits to the generally inadequate level of most private sector workers ($27/hour in wages and benefits).

Many Menlo Park residents need to remember that this data reflects the real "private sector" economy, in which American workers earn an average of $40,000 a year, not the six figures and more that many Menlo Park residents earn, and I would venture to guess, many of the petition's supporters.

When I look at the data in the e-mail, I think, "Geez, private sector workers are getting ripped off. They should organize unions like public sector workers so they can have some power in negotiating decent pay and benefits."

As soon as the public can vote on the pay and benefits of the CEOs and higher level executives of the private sector, who are really overpaid and who really control our economy, then maybe I'll think about voting on lowering the pension benefits of the people who serve me as employees of the city of Menlo Park.

Perhaps it is the case that public sector workers earn decent pay and benefits relative to many private sector workers. Maybe there is even some room for renegotiating some of their pension benefits.

However, I think most Menlo Park residents should come to the opposite conclusion from those who want to cut benefits for local workers. We should focus on improving the pay and benefits of private sector workers, not bashing the huge majority of public sector workers who are just making a decent middle-class living.

Galen Rosenberg lives on Laurel Avenue in Menlo Park.

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