The Campaign Spot

Government Union Head Envies Private Sector’s On-Site Spas

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 workers in 31 government agencies, takes to the editorial page of the Washington Post today to argue:

The federal pay system aims to find a balance between offering a fair and competitive wage, a secure retirement and a satisfying work environment for those who believe in public service. Especially for the most educated, highly skilled and highly compensated federal employees, the importance of the mission, the challenge of the work and the commitment to public service provide non-monetary incentives.

It is clear that the public and its representatives in Congress do not support compensating even the most educated and skilled employees at the level they could attain in the private sector. Nor would these employees ever see the kinds of monetary and non-monetary perks their counterparts in the private sector receive, such as paid sabbaticals, 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, bonuses, stock options, on-site spas and more.

What it seems almost no one in the federal workforce recognizes is that those generous perks in the private sector are largely, if not entirely, contingent upon the performance of the private company. A corporation that spends all of its (after-tax!) earnings on an on-site spa will likely go out of business.

A lot of factors go into the performance of a private company, but one that is almost impossible to ignore is service to the customer. If the customers don’t like the quality of the service or good, they can take their business elsewhere.

The federal government has a monopoly, unless citizens want to renounce their citizenship and immigrate elsewhere. Whether the public is pleased, displeased, or irate about the level of “service” they’re getting from the federal government, they pay their taxes year in and year out. There are few, if any, financial consequences for bad service to the citizenry. Considering the rarity of firings in the public-sector workforce (“Federal employees’ job security is so great that workers in many agencies are more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off or fired, a USA TODAY analysis finds“), it could be argued we’re witnessing a whine about a lack of sabbaticals from representatives of government workers who already enjoy effective “tenure.”

Finally, after four years of recession, on a day we’re allegedly supposed to be celebrating that unemployment is all the way down to 8.3 percent, doesn’t it seem extraordinarily tone-deaf for the head of a public-sector union to lament publicly that highly skilled government workers are undercompensated because they don’t get paid sabbaticals, bonuses, stock options, and on-site spas?

Why, it’s almost enough to make you want a president who likes being able to fire people who provide services to us.


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