Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lifeguard Pay a Symptom of California's Woes

If I had it to do all over again I might go to lifeguard school and move to Orange County. Apparently you can make a pretty good living sitting on the beach and watching the bikinis stroll by.
According to a city report on lifeguard pay for the calendar year 2010, of the 14 full-time lifeguards, 13 collected more than $120,000 in total compensation; one lifeguard collected $98,160.65. More than half the lifeguards collected more than $150,000 for 2010 with the two highest-paid collecting $211,451 and $203,481 in total compensation respectively. Even excluding benefits like health care and pension, more than half the lifeguards receive a total salary, including overtime pay, exceeding $100,000. And they also receive an annual allowance of $400 for "Sun Protection." Many work four days a week, 10 hours a day.
I know, I know. lifeguards perform a vital service and save lives. But does anyone seriously think that this level of compensation is realistic?
But, putting that aside--it's California; this is just one item on a very large list of problems they are deealing with--what's interesting is the argument put forth by the union:
In a phone conversation, Brent Jacobsen, president of the Lifeguard Management Association, defended the lifeguard pay in Newport Beach: "We have negotiated very fair and very reasonable salaries in conjunction with comparable positions and other cities up and down the coast." "Lifeguard salaries here are well within the norm of other city employees."
Think about that for a minute. Now imagine this hypothetical conversation:

"Flip Udder, president of the Milk Producers of America, defended the current cost of a gallon of milk, which has reached $7.50 throughout the state. 'We have negotiated very fair and very reasonable prices in conjunction with comparable products in other cities up and down the coast.'"

That's called price fixing. It's illegal and it's happened before. You can argue that the collective bargaining between a union and a municipality and collusion among food producers to set coordinate commodity prices is different, but is it really? The end result is the same: the price of a good or service goes up everywhere because it went up somewhere. There's something very wrong about a system that allows a salary increase in one area to automatically roll over to all the other areas within a particular union's influence. This is a key difference between public- and private-sector unions; a collective bargaining victory for a union in one state doesn't necessarily affect the status in another in the private sector. State government unions are necessarily contained within a single state and can represent hundreds of locales. A pay increase at one of these can ripple throughout those locales and put the state government taxpayer on the hook for vast sums. This is at the root of California's ongoing budget problems. $400 for sunblock is just a symptom.

(H/T Rob Clayton for the OC Register link.)

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

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