Heroes or Leeches? Debating Public Safety WagesJun 2nd, 2011 | By Julie Erfle | Category: pensions, public safety
Over the last year, I’ve listened as certain council members and other Phoenix residents have claimed wages for our public safety workers are too high. I’ve read the letters to the editor lambasting pension benefits as well as the op-ed pieces claiming payroll is outrageously excessive. I find it all less than amusing and highly hypocritical.
First, it should be noted that city workers do not average $100,000 in pay as Councilman Sal DiCiccio continues to incorrectly state. Rather it’s $100,000 in wages and benefits… benefits such as health insurance, uniform allowance and retirement. Actual take home pay is much, much less. But the real question shouldn’t be what’s included in the total sum but rather why that sum is so offensive to certain council members and residents.
Public safety workers, who are the vast majority of city employees, deserve a respectable wage commensurate with the risks and demands of the job. Like doctors, they are charged with saving lives. Unlike doctors, they must put their own safety behind those they serve – the citizens of this city. And sometimes, they must give their own lives to save others.
When an officer or firefighter is killed in the line of duty, we come together to pay tribute to that sacrifice. We frequently hear stories from the media and from city officials about what a difficult and thankless job these public safety workers have and how they deserve our honor and respect.
Then, when it comes time to set budgets and determine how much we should pay these same workers, the story changes and the tone becomes harsh. Suddenly, our public safety workers are held up as overpaid employees who leech off taxpayers and should feel lucky to have a job.
How convenient it is to praise public servants after death or injury then chastise them while debating their worth in wages.
In yesterday’s Arizona Republic opinions section, Greg Houlihan writes a letter to the editor deriding the appointment of Bryan Jeffries, a Mesa firefighter and union president, to the Phoenix city council saying Mr. Jeffries will support unions rather than taxpayers. This of course assumes that unions want to stick it to the taxpayers and that it’s impossible to balance the rights of workers with the good of the city. But is that what’s been demonstrated lately? I think not.
Instead, Phoenix public safety unions agreed to across-the-board pay cuts combined with furlough days, all in an effort to help save jobs and save the city millions during our financial crisis. And due to recent state legislation, public safety employees will also be paying more toward pension benefits while employers pay less. That doesn’t sound like leeching to me. That sounds like sacrifice in the name of public good.
Mr. Jeffries offers a unique perspective to the council, one that’s been missing for far too long and one that should hopefully balance the false and misleading statements we’ve been hearing from some of the more vocal council members such as Mr. DiCiccio.
Our public safety workers should not be praised for their heroism one day then criticized for their expectation of a respectable wage the next. They deserve a voice at the table, and Councilman Jeffries deserves the opportunity to present it.