A public (employee) apology

As negotiations have heated up for Oregon public employees, I’ve wondered a few times at my prior posts about the state of public employee pay and benefits. I have to admit, I was a bit wrong about benefits not being as bloated as many claimed – they are in fact far better than I realized, and I fully understand why so many people think we have it easy.

My mistake

I looked deeper at the retirement plan and discovered that I missed something. 6% of our pay goes into an IAP fund (Individual Account Program), which, as I mentioned previously, is effectively a 401k program. But another 6% goes into the OPSRP plan, which, upon retirement, pays me a decent chunk of money for life. The formula is exciting and kind of odd, but basically you get more the longer you work. For 30 years of service, if my salary maxed out at $90k a year, I’d end up with 45% of that salary for life, or $40,500 a year. This is in addition to my IAP. It’s hard to predict the final IAP value, as markets fluctuate, but it will certainly be worth over $100k after 30 years at $60k+ a year. This is a very impressive retirement plan given I don’t pay anything for it.

Negotiations

So during the past few months, I’ve seen negotiations turn very ugly. After a lot of whining, we finally got contracts settled, and in my opinion they’re pretty fair. Yes, we have to pay some extra health care costs, but come on — the premiums are rising way too fast to expect them to be free forever, unless something starts to really change. We get cost of living adjustments 12/2011 and 01/2013. Step freezes are off the table.

And yet, the OUS negotiators aren’t happy. They’re preparing for a strike.

Complaints

Furlough days are a point of major contention. Yet nobody I work with actually minds them. They are easily the most fair way to cut salaries. I lose money, but gain time off. I understand some people can’t afford the cut, but we did get raises recently, even with furloughs still intact, so I honestly don’t get the whining. What’s worse is that there are apparently some attempts to get compensation for furlough days already taken. This is absolutely ludicrous. I don’t care if management didn’t have to share in the furloughs – our compensation was time off. It may not have been desirable, but it was compensation.

The health-engagement model is something many union members are just crying over. I guess they don’t realize that health care costs in the U.S. are ridiculous for preventable problems like obesity and smoking. I fully support the health-engagement model, and I fully support people having to pay extra if they destroy their health. Smoke if you want. Eat at McDonald’s and help push this nation’s obesity rate even higher if that’s your dream. Drink until your liver fails completely. But don’t expect to get cheap health care if you do.

Salary increases are a concern, too. Apparently OUS wants to reduce the minimum raise given to IT people. I could not agree more. I managed to get my first raise this year, and I was blown away. For getting a “meets expectations” rating (i.e., just doing my job), I was guaranteed a 4.75% increase. This would be an annual increase if we weren’t seeing wage freezes. For reference, that amounted to about $250 a month extra for me, because my salary was around $62,000. $250 a month extra for having a rating of “meets expectations”.. This is in addition to cost of living adjustments.

In the private sector, you’ll find few places that guarantee 4.75% increases for their IT staff. At Musician’s Friend, I averaged something like 2% a year, and I consistently had glowing reviews from my managers. If OUS wants to turn the “meets expectation” raise from 4.75% into a range from 3% to 4.75%, I can’t blame them — but I’d say the lower end of that range should be even lower. If I am just barely getting my job done, I do not deserve a 3% raise every year, period.

The only item that truly concerns me is a proposal for IT-only wage freezes. And depending on who you ask, this may not even be on the table. The union says management is set on discriminating against IT by freezing our wages and nobody else’s. Yet the president of Oregon State University claims this is an unfounded rumor. The director of HR backed him up. According to her:

A bit of background information on how we got here. SEIU declared impasse in bargaining before OUS had fully completed bargaining this matter. (As a matter of record, the parties had another mediation session already scheduled for further bargaining at the time SEIU declared impasse.) The declaration of impasse required OUS, by law, to submit their final offer to the State Employment Relations Board and at that time it became public information. Without having had the opportunity to fully bargain the IT compensation provisions, the declaration of impasse placed OUS in the position of having to put forward its final offer without having addressed IT compensation in mediation.

In other words, OUS had to submit an incomplete proposal, and never had any real plans to freeze our wages. In other words, I’m paying $100 a month for the union to represent my concerns, and they’re lying to me in order to try and get me to strike. In other words, SEIU is full of shit. In other words, I now understand why so many people despise unions.

(Obviously management could be lying, but given the other BS the union’s pulling, I doubt management is to blame in this specific situation)

I wouldn’t give up union protection – I still stand by what I wrote previously, in that the union is generally a great thing for workers. But right now, the negotiations are being driven by greed, period.

So Please

Before you start hating the union members, keep in mind many of us are absolutely disgusted by the tactics the union negotiators have employed. I have encouraged many of my coworkers to formally join the union solely to be able to vote “no” on the strike, if it comes down to a vote. Those of you planning to vote yes, I hope you’re merely naive and not the stereotypical lazy, greedy public employees.

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