City Workers Make Less Money Than Those in Private Sector, John Liu Report Reveals

NY Daily News - March 16, 2011

by Lisa Colangelo

City Controller John Liu released a report last week that made an obvious point many people thought needed restating: City workers make less money than people in the private sector.

It provided some comfort for city workers who feel they have been demonized by lawmakers and special interest groups pushing for pension reform and other benefit reductions.

The extreme example of that has been on painful display in Wisconsin, where lawmakers have acted to strip workers of their right to collective bargaining and other protections.

Across the country, municipal workers have been repeatedly - and unfairly - painted as overpaid and greedy.

And what's being lost in all that hysteria is any meaningful chance to negotiate benefit changes with union leaders at the bargaining table.

Liu's report stated that city employees make about 17% less on average than people who work for private, for-profit companies.

In addition, city workers tend to be somewhat better educated, according to the study. A larger number of people in the public sector have earned a bachelor's or higher degree.

City Hall, editorial boards and others have already ripped the report, saying its methodology is inaccurate. Some say Liu, who had solid labor backing during his run for controller, is painting a rosy picture for supporters.

Maybe. But it's important to point out that none of these critics had a problem when the Citizens Budget Commission released a study titled "Six Figure Civil Servants" that argued that city workers receive overly generous salaries and benefits.

The methodology used for that report - which combined the salaries and benefits of rookie cops with those of 20-year-plus chiefs - was questionable as well. And it left more than a few workers represented by District Council 37 - who make nowhere near six figures - scratching their heads.

Studies by the Citizens Budget Commission - a think tank whose board is filled with representatives of real estate companies, bankers and investment firms - have been warmly embraced by the Bloomberg administration.

However, comparing civil service and private industry is a sticky and unwise proposition for both sides.

People enter civil service for many reasons. Getting rich (at least legally) isn't one of them. While salaries have been traditionally lower, the security and benefits have made them good job choices for generations of middle-class people.

And what about uniformed civil servants, such as the firefighters who run into burning buildings or cops who answer potentially deadly domestic disputes? The unspoken pact has always been this: Help take care of the city, and we will help take care of you and your family.

That's a pact that should never be broken.