February 11, 2010
MADISON BUS DRIVER HIGHEST PAID CITY EMPLOYEE
The highest paid city government employee of Madison, Wisconsin, last year wasn't the mayor. It wasn't the police chief. It wasn't even the head of Metro Transit. It was bus driver John E. Nelson, says the Wisconsin State Journal.
* Nelson earned $159,258 in 2009, including $109,892 in overtime and other pay.
* He and his colleague, driver Greg Tatman, who earned $125,598, were among the city's top 20 earners for 2009, city records show.
They're among the seven bus drivers who made more than $100,000 last year thanks to a union contract that lets the most senior drivers who have the highest base salaries get first crack at overtime, says the Journal.
And there was a lot of overtime -- $1.94 million last year, $467,200 more than the bus system budgeted for and the most ever for the system -- as employees exhausted sick leave and took advantage of unpaid leave through the federal Family Medical Leave Act, officials say:
* The high salaries for Metro bus drivers come as Metro's ridership continues to grow and the system ranks high among peers according to a 2009 state audit.
* Metro, which increased fares last year, carried 13.58 million riders in 2009, the second highest total in 40 years.
In the past, drivers have defended the pay, saying they earn it by working long hours that can create hardships on families. Also, the job requires navigating an oversized vehicle through city streets and dealing with sometimes uncivil riders and other challenges, they say.
The bus drivers' contact, which calls for pay up to $26.02 an hour, expired at the end of December and the sides are now in negotiations.
Overtime is high for several reasons, says Metro general manager Chuck Kamp:
* Metro employees are exhausting sick leave time, taking advantage of the federal Family Medical Leave Act and have high rate of absenteeism without pay.
* For example, use of the medical leave act by Metro employees jumped 44 percent to 28,340 hours from 2008 to 2009, Kamp said, calling it "the driving factor" for overtime last year.
Source: Dean Mosiman, "Madison Metro driver highest paid city employee," Wisconsin State Journal, February 7, 2010.
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February 11, 2010
THE CRUELTY OF COMPASSION
Social cohesion is one of those values all decent Europeans can sign up to: less social conflict and less of the inequality that America and Britain put up with. What all European governments must grasp, though, is that many of the policies espoused in the name of social cohesion do not promote compassion over cruelty. Rather, they encourage decline, entrench divisions and thus threaten the harmony they pretend to nurture, says The Economist.
Two worrying common threads can be discerned in all this, says the Economist. One is that the natural desire for social cohesion is being abused to justify the protection of "insiders"-- those in permanent jobs, in trade unions or in privileged professions:
* But the cost of protecting insiders falls largely on "outsiders" -- the unemployed and those in temporary work, especially young people and immigrants.
* The gulf between insiders and outsiders destroys the very social cohesion that the policy is meant to preserve.
* And in the long run it is bad for everyone, because employers do not train temporary workers -- a particular problem in economies like Italy and Spain, where new permanent contracts are rare.
* This lack of training is one of the main reasons why Europe's productivity growth over the past two decades has persistently lagged behind America's.
The second common thread is that social cohesion has become a reason to defend the privileges and perks of the public sector, which is also now the last bastion of trade unions:
* Across Europe many private-sector workers have seen their pay, pensions and other benefits frozen or cut by cash-strapped employers during the recession.
* Yet most governments, even Britain's, have been reluctant to apply similar treatment to the public sector.
* One result is that the state is taking a rising share of gross domestic product (GDP), which is sure to lead to heavier taxes.
* Another is that public-sector pay and benefits have shot ahead as a cosseted caste extends its privileges.
Source: Editorial, "The cruelty of compassion," The Economist, January 28, 2010.
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