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The $239,148 Railroad Conductor

When even the New York Times starts running stories on how overpaid government workers are, you know the topic is getting traction.

In this one, the Times reports that more than 8,000 employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subways and commuter railroads, made more than $100,000 last year. One conductor on the Long Island Railroad made $239,148. That’s more than the MTA’s chief financial officer made. How did he do it? Simple. His base salary was $67,772, and he earned overtime of about $67,000. And he cashed in his accumulated sick days and unused vacation days. He retired in April 2010, and his pension, of course, will be based on his earnings in his last few years.

Allowing soon-to-retire employees to rack up huge amounts of overtime in their last year is standard procedure in many government organizations. The MTA paid overtime amounting to $560 million last year and is currently planning service cuts to eliminate a $400 million shortfall in revenues. I hope the passengers who find themselves standing for long periods of time on platforms in the snow and rain next winter realize that they are doing so in order that some retired conductor can live in comfort in Florida.

There are few corporations that allow employees to accumulate vacation days. They must use them for vacations or lose them. Likewise with sick days. The whole point of sick days is to ensure that employees are not penalized financially if and when they get sick. But the public-employees’ unions and the government agencies that negotiate with them have perverted sick days into a bonus, paid at retirement, for not getting sick. This perversion is then compounded by using the payment to swell the pension received after retirement.

The Democrats are hopelessly in bed with the unions, but Republicans, who won’t get a dime of union money anyway, can earn a lot of votes by calling for reforming how pensions are calculated and for a freeze to wages and benefits until public-sector compensation is brought into line with that of the private sector.



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