Private vs. Government Wages

Comparing Apples to Oranges

I knew this would happen, but it is always fun to see how the employee union haters will spin an issue.

Some people, like Jubal over at the OC Blog, claim to love the government employee but hate their “greedy” unions. Sounds about as valid as Compassionate Conservatism to me, but then what would you expect from a person who is fiscally responsible and socially liberal on most issues.

There is a price that society must pay for living in a civilized world, and it is the responsibility of government to take care of things that for profit industry does not. In order to effectively operate government services we must be able, as a society, to hire, train, and keep employees in public service. The only place where market forces can be applied to government is in the determination of the “right” wage for employees performing public services.

Alan Bock, over at the Register’s Orange Punch Blog tries to apply his view of economics 101 in his Friday post titled The “right” wage. He concluded his analysis with the following statement; “This phenomenon won’t permit us to say exactly what the salary would be in a situation governed strictly by supply and demand rather than forced exactions and political influence. But it does suggest strongly that even in that forced-exaction-influence-peddling world the “right” salary — the one that would attract a sufficient supply of qualified applicants — would be considerably lower than the one on offer.”

The problem with Bocks’ premise is that government is a function of society that is need driven not profit driven. Comparing a government operations model to a profit oriented business model is like comparing apples and oranges. While they are both fruits, the similarities end there.

Most government jobs do not easily compare to those in private industry. But among those that do, the pay for County employees is on average right in the middle of the average for similar jobs in private industry. To demonstrate my point here are two positions that I compared to the average in Orange County based upon State employment data.

Hourly Rate Range
Information/Records Clerk
Overall: $11.24 — $17.96
County Government: $13.49 — $15.88

Overall: $43.73 — $49.53
County Government: $34.42 — $46.44

It is easy for Mr. Bock and others to claim that County government workers are overpaid. I challenge these individuals to back their assertions up with actual data. Mr. Bock may find it easy to claim that public safety officers (police, fire, probation, etc.) are overpaid, but I do not think he would willingly risk his life for less than the average pay these professionals receive. He may think that a job as a Public Health Nurse with the Health Care Agency is the same as a Registered Nurse in a small local physician’s office, but it isn’t.

Working as a public employee is for the most part a thankless job. Just look at the level of appreciation we get form the likes of Alan Bock, Steven Greenhut, John Moorlach, Chris Norby, and Jubal if you have any doubts. The bottom line here is that paying a competitive wage to attract and keep qualified employees is a necessary cost of doing business in both the private and public sector. It is not unreasonable for government employees to be paid a competitive wage and for them to receive an annual pay increase like anyone else. It is not wrong for employees to collectively negotiate through their union representatives for their salaries and benefits. It is necessary in order for them to negotiate from a position of strength and be paid fairly for the work they perform for a civilized society.

The Orange County Employee’s Association negotiated in “Good Faith” with the County of Orange for a salary increase for the 2006-07 fiscal year. We reached an agreement in good faith and the agreement should be honored by the Board members who agreed to offer it.