Should public employees' salaries be public?

Exerpted from the Associated Press:

Putting aside the issue of Sen. Torlakson’s planned bill, what are the ethical and moral priorities over releasing the salaries of public employees?

On the one hand, you can argue (as the newspaper does) that these are public employees, so the public has a right to know how much they’re getting paid.

On the other hand, you can argue (as the police union and the city of Oakland do) that accountability doesn’t require disclosing the names of individual employees and their salaries, and that accountability can be served simply by looking at the numbers from a higher level.
So in the showdown between the “public right to know” and “employees’ right to privacy,” who wins? And why?

I’m puzzled. Is there a real issue here?

This is public money, so the public are entitled to know how it is being spent. Presumably public sector salary scales are in the public domain, either because they have been formally published or included in some official reports or papers or, more prosaically, because they have been included in recruitment advertisements, etc.

The identity of public sector employees is presumably similarly known.

I’d be very surprised if, from published official sources, it wasn’t possible to say with a fair degree of accuracy what any public sector employee is getting – certainly any senior public sector employee, which is what the newspaper seems to be interested in in this case.

If nothing else, these people presumably won’t be paid at all unless the city council (or other appropriate body) votes the necessary funds, and they won’t vote the funds unless the expenditure of the funds is properly accounted for to their satisfaction. That must means, in practice, that if city councillors really want a breakdown of salaries, they can get it. So all you need do is ask your city councillor to find out the information you want. If he values your vote, he’ll ask for you. Or am I missing something?

In Maryland, anyway, the state budget, complete with salaries, is public information and available in many local libraries. Heck, the University of Maryland even publishes campus salaries on-line. I’m in that list, and it bothers me not a whit. Transparency in government is a good things, so public salaries oought to be public knowledge.

I’m a public employee, my salary is public information for anyone that cares to find out about it. My agency’s web site has the pay rates for all civil service classifications. Doesn’t bother me in the least, if I was excited about being secretive about my salary, I wouldn’t have chosen public service.

Ditto, ditto, ditto. I’m a government worker, my salary is in a government publication, doesn’t bother me a bit. I still have that old-school “I don’t like to talk about money” view, so you can look up my salary in the publication, but don’t ask me to talk about it.

Actually, it’s kind of fun to see how my salary stacks up against those I work with. (It stacks up fine, thank you very much.)

As a member of the military, it’s nice to be able to Google my salary if I’m not exactly sure what it is this year. It’s also very nice to be able to plan for investing my future pay raises, and to know exactly when they’re coming, and how much they’re worth. It’s also a nice equalizer when everyone in your office knows how much everyone else makes.

I also don’t talk about it or flash it around. But it’s damn nice to be comfortably compensated for my work.

I’m not a public employee… It seems very odd that I could look on the web and find my neighbor’s name and see exactly what he/she makes every month. It feels like an invasion of privacy.
A grid (example) satisfies my desire to know what is being spent on public employee salaries.

I’m not a public employee, but a not-for-profit. One thing I’ve noticed is when salaries are made public often people get paid less than they’re entitled to, or so it seems to me. You get an attitude of “they’re getting paid how much? but i thought it was charity work?”

Just my two cents. No cite, sorry.

I’m also a public employee, and my personal salary is published annually. Anyone can look it up. I can go see what I make, what any of my coworkers make. In fact, some employees use this to their advantage to make the case that they are not being paid equitably.

Now, I will say that I think publishing it is enough. Anyone who is that darned interested in what I make is welcome to go look it up. I would balk, however, if my employer’s policy of publishing salaries was extended further to provide research services for newspapers or other entities (or citizens). I don’t think they should have to answer if you call up and say “What does Cranky make?” nor should they have to dedicate staff time to providing a list of all employees who make above and below a certain amount. I expect them to answer “Salary information is published, and it is available here, here, and there. You’re welcome to look it up.”

I’m pretty sure that in Canada all public service salaries are made available. I know every year its a big deal on the news stations when the info is released and they all run “who makes how much” stories.

Any Canadians care to correct me if I’m wrong?

I’m a State Employee, and if people knew how little I earn, they’d be ashamed. :smack:

Why should it have to be "Joe Smith makes $20,000 a year, Mary Smith makes $15,000… etc).

Couldn’t it be (and I believe it is in many places) Library Assistant II makes $20,000, Accounting Clerk I makes $15,000?

Well sure , it’s possible for someone to estimate my pay from published sources - if they know my title (which determines my bargaining unit and pay grade). It won’t be a particularly precise estimate though, as there is approximately a 13,000 difference between the lowest and highest salary for my grade, and the published salary doesn’t include certain payments - for example there is a payment that begins when someone is at the top of the grade for five years, another at ten years , one that depends on work location and another that depends on being in a hazardous duty assignment.

As far as the public, sure the public has a right to know how much public employees are paid. But why does it need to be in the form “Joe Smith earns $20,000 per year” , rather than “The fire department’s payroll is 400,000 a year” or “There are three firefighters earning $20,000/year , six earning $30,000 a year” etc ? What does the public gain by having my particular salary published ?

As far as the identity of public sector employees being known, maybe yes, maybe no. The identity of top officials is generally known, and the identity of all public employees might be known in a small town. But there is no way that the identity of every sanitation worker in the city of New York is common knowledge.

Because depending on the deal the unions have, that information might not be very probative at all. In the current instance, look at which union is kicking up a storm – the police union. You can reasonably expect the fire union to join them. The difference between those and other unions? Overtime. In particular, overtime to favored employees during the three years (usually) leading up to retirement. If you published “Fire Battalion Commander, Level IV” has a salary of (making it up) $60,000, that is not helpful information if the truth is that, (again, making it up) the average Battalion Commander makes $80,000 after overtime and that those who are in the final three years of their careers, when compensation is set for pension purposes, average $135,000 and oh-by-the-way the Battalion Commanders who happen to also be union leaders make $160,000 and a large portion of the overtime is for being on-call, not actually on duty.

I suspect that the movement to publish specific compensation for specific people is either a) a failure of imagination on the part of politicians to find a less intrusive way to deal with this very real situation[sup]1[/sup] or b) an attempt to “punish” somehow some civil-service political enemies who benefit from the structure of the union contracts or c) some combination of those. An additional factor in many places is some of the highly-paid “civil service” posts that in reality are political patronage jobs.
[sup]1[/sup]: Whether such a state is desirable, or whether taxpayers would tolerate it with full knowledge is of course an entirely separate issue. But the disconnect between published “salaries” and actual cash compensation of many civil service workers who qualify for overtime is real.

Oh, I agree, doreen. Public sector salary scales, increments, allowances and the like should all be published, so that taxpayers know how their money is being spent. A consequence of that is that somebody who already knows your circumstances can deduce with a fair degree of accuracy how much you earn. I don’t think that’s unacceptable.

I think we cross an important line if somebody who doesn’t give a damn about taxpayers’ money but has a morbid interest in doreen can ring up and say “How much is doreen paid? And how exactly does she qualify for those increments and special allowances?”, and expect to get an answer. I would regard that as objectionable, even if much the same information could be elicited by anyone with a little legwork.

I agree with both parts of this.

Certainly when I signed up as a Federal employee six years ago, I had no idea that my grade, step, salary, and bonuses would be public information. That the GS scale was public information, sure. That one could reasonably infer where I might fit on that scale, if one knew me well or was a co-worker, all well and good.

But when they put all this on the Web earlier this year, so that with a few keystrokes and mouse-clicks, you could look up the exact compensation of any specific Federal employee, yeah, that bothers me. The woman next door works for NASA; I suppose I could look up her salary and so forth, but I’d feel awfully creepy doing it.

I can see why the public ought to have as clear an idea of how public employees are compensated, so long as it doesn’t involve detailed information on particular employees. But I can’t see why working for the government, rather than, say, Lockheed Martin, should mean that the world gets to know exactly how much you earn.

In 2003, Bob Coutts, the EVP for Electronic Systems for Lockheed Martin, made $655,385 in base salary and received an annual bonus of $753,500. In addition, he received $19,725 in other annual compensation, primarily tax payments for unexercised options and the phantom stock plan, financial counseling and the value of perks. Under his longer term plan, he also received options on 70,000 shares with an exercise price of $51.10/share, a payout of $1,572,500 under his long-term incentive plan based on the performance of the company’s stock from 2001 to 2003 (much of which is deferred) and $52,241 for miscellany including various savings plans and accrued but unused vacation days.

You’re not taking privacy laws into account.

If the city has legal authority to publish salaries of individuals, then there is no need to talk to your councillor.

But if the legal regime governing the city doesn’t authorise the publication of the salaries of individual employee, your city councillor may be in breach of the law protecting the privacy of the individual if s/he passes the information on to you.

All of which depends on the particular legal regime in the particular municipality, YMMV, etc.

Because knowing the individual salaries and names can discourage things like patronage and nepotism.

Suppose there’s three grades of flunkey in the civil service: Junior Flunkey, Associate Flunkey, and Executive Flunkey. Just knowing the salary range for the three grades doesn’t help much.

But what if the Minister in charge of the department is named, oh, let’s say Ouellette (just to pick a name at random :wink: ). And let’s say that if you study the names of the employees and their salaries, you discover that almost all of the Executive Flunkeys just happen to be named Ouellette as well, and they’re all at the top of their range. And by digging deeper and looking into past years, you discover that all those Ouellettes started in the Associate Flunkey level, while everyone else started at Junior Flunkey, and that all those Ouellettes shot up through the salary ranges at double the rate of everyone else.

In this hypothetical, isn’t that exactly the kind of information that should trigger alarm bells in the minds of tax-payers?

Theoretically, yes. But only in a situation where it can happen. In both of the government jobs I had, it can’t. To obtain a civil service position one must meet certain qualifications, pass a test and be placed on a list by the Department of Civil Service, which is then sent to hiring agencies. The hiring agency must then choose one of the top three names on the list. Promotions work the same way, and moving through salary scales is based on time. Should an agency try to favor someone- say by promoting number 42 on the list because he’s someone’s nephew= numbers 1-42 will go screaming to the Department of Civil Service. There are indeed people who got their jobs because of patronage or nepotism , but they are out of the civil service- you don’t get a job as a flunky because you are related to the department head or donated to the campaign of a state senator or babysit the Governor’s children. You get a much higher level job , which is not subject to civil service rules, and in which you “serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority” as a result of those connections. All of those jobs are based on connections, and there are only a few people in each position.