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OC Register’s Misguided Swipe at “Special Pay” for City Employees

In their obsession to distort facts about all things connected to unionized workers, particularly public employees, the Orange County Register has launched yet another uninformed and misguided attack on public employees. In an editorial last Friday Special pay for city employees swells budget they write:

Special payouts to public employees in cities throughout Orange County are commonplace, our ongoing investigations show. Beyond regular pay and benefits, many public employees, as we have noted, are benefiting from a litany of “special pay” provisions – essentially bonuses for a variety of job functions or skill sets. The latest example we found: $2.88 million paid by the city of Orange from October 2010 to October 2011.

Documents provided by the city confirmed that special pays are awarded, under terms of union contracts, for such skills as being bilingual or for holding certain professional certifications.

Their solution, to what they consider to be a pervasive drain on the budget for the city of Orange of 3.5%, is to suggest changes that fail to reduce costs.

Employees should be paid one salary, which should account for all certifications and job qualifications. If a job requires a specific certificate or proficiency in multiple languages, for instance, that should be reflected in the base pay and job description, and not be a rationale for bonus pay.

Doing this would require that all employees working in areas where bilingual skills may be needed to be bilingual so that the “special pay” could be included in the base salary. This prevents the city from hiring people without bilingual skills. This would actually increase the overall costs rather than reduce them.

The next “problem” they identified was just another attack on the ability of public employees to collectively negotiate for pay and benefits.

Special pay gives extra negotiating power to unions and allows for horse trading during the negotiating process, which is more clandestine than direct salary negotiations. For example, elected officials may tout how they save taxpayers money by not giving their workers raises, while at the same time offering special pays, incentive pays and bonuses.

The assertion by the Register that such pay is a special benefit given as a side deal to hide pay raises is blatantly false. It is not the result of horse trading during negotiations.

Bilingual pay is a standard premium paid  to employees who bring an additional needed skill set to the table that municipalities have had in place for decades. I challenge the Register to identify any of these special pays as a new benefit added through recent negotiations with any municipality, much less the city of Orange. I seriously doubt they will be able to find any.

Such pay is not a bonus. In fact, paying some employees for premium skills is a sound business practice.

Finally the Register claims:

Special pays are taking up a higher percentage of city budgets at a time when many cities are cutting services and facing major financial challenges.

I cannot find anywhere in their editorial where they specify the cause of the increases in the portions of budgets going to special pay. But if such an increase exists, it is likely due to a need for more bilingual employees to serve the local community.

Of course, their outrage could simply be the ranting of the TEA -Bagging, Libertarian, White men who make up their editorial board and are angered that services are being provided in any language other than English.