Incompetent public employees with ridiculous benefits, and the evil unions protecting them

Public employees are the DEVIL. That’s what I’m hearing a lot lately. We cost the state too much. In Wisconsin, they have limited negotiation rights now, and here in Oregon we’re looking at various cuts to our benefits to help the state out of debt.

It’s interesting to read the responses on various news sites – depending where you go, the public might be behind us or completely disgusted by us. Obviously I’m planning to address the latter, as I would have no reason to be annoyed at supporters.

I am writing about my own experiences. Statistics are too easy to manipulate, and comparing “averages” in the job market never really means anything useful. So bear in mind most of what I have to say relates to my previous jobs as a software engineer, and my current job officially titled “Programmer Analyst, competency level 3” (the highest-tier software engineer in the Oregon University System). What I do now is essentially the same as what I did at my prior job in the private sector.

I find it amusing that so many people say we get too much, yet we can rarely fill a position with a qualified candidate coming from the private sector. What’s that? $60k a year is too little pay for a senior software engineer? But what about our ridiculous, over-the-top benefits package? Oh, that’s still not enough? Odd, considering it’s being claimed that our pay and benefits are an incredible burden on the state.

There are a lot of claims out there about how much I cost, how little work I do, and how much of a burden I am to the taxpayers. I can only really discuss a few things with concrete examples, so don’t expect me to try and address every myth out there. Today (to keep this from being a 5000-word essay) I will only address what I cost to my employer compared to what I cost in the private sector.

I work for Oregon State University. As mentioned above, I’m the highest-tier software developer. My base salary is just under $62,000 a year. The maximum for this job is just about $90,000 a year, but it’s standard policy that you start at the bottom (about where I am now), so I currently don’t know anybody who is anywhere near that figure.

My benefits are pretty good, but the total cost to my employer is under $1700 a month. Rounding up, this is a yearly cost of $20,500. This includes the health insurance premiums as well as the 6% pension contribution. Bear in mind that for employees hired in something like the last 15 years, the pension isn’t what it used to be, with guaranteed rates of return and such. As I understand it, it’s nothing more than a managed 401k plan, so the 6% of my paycheck contribution is effectively just that 6%, not 6% + padding for crazy-pension-win-big-money-scam.

I also get 37 paid days off (12 sick, 12 vacation, 3 personal, and 10 holiday), and based on how much my 7 days of furlough cost, that’s worth just under $8900 a year. Rounding up gives us another $10,000 a year.

Add that up and you get $92,500 a year total compensation including health care, pension, time off, etc. For a senior software developer, that is not extraordinary.

At Musician’s Friend, I was paid $72,000 a year plus partial 401k matching (3% of our salary, but only during profitable years) and they covered something like $5,000 a year of the health insurance premiums. I had 29 days off a year. Total compensation for that job varied due to the 401k situation, but tended to end up around $85,000 a year.

When I left Musician’s Friend in June of last year, I had two job offers – the one I took at OSU, and another job offer for $38 an hour (this was a full-time position, so about $79,000 a year) plus bonuses, time-and-a-half overtime pay, and of course a fairly decent benefits package. And overtime was pretty much guaranteed if you wanted it. I can’t say what total compensation would have been there, not knowing the bonus situation, but assuming things were similar to MF otherwise, it would have been in the $92,000 a year range.

Having been in the software industry for over ten years now, I don’t think I’d have too much trouble finding an even better offer – but when the OSU offer came in, I didn’t bother to look further. The reason I chose Oregon State is because the private sector isn’t willing to pay for good benefits. The health care options are meager, because nobody wants to take a huge pay cut for good health care options. Same with 401k options. Same with a sane work week. You either get good pay or you get good benefits, and I chose the latter.

Now throw in the furlough days (2.5% pay cut for my pay scale, though I can’t deny the extra time off is nice) and the wage freeze continuing for the foreseeable future, and I don’t see how the right wing is able to paint us as a bunch of freeloading leeches ruining the economy.

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