Friday, January 28, 2005

Performance-based Pay

Amy Ridenour has a post regarding the DNC's response to performance-based increases in federal employment. This is a necessary evil - and certainly not as perfect a solution as we would like to think. I intend to explain why. There are benefits to working for the state or federal governments. These include job security, excellent health/medical benefits, paid holidays, set schedules, life benefits such as life insurance and supplemented/paid day care, and being part of a union. Regardless of whether or not you are a member, you are part of the union and its policies and negotiations. These are negotiated using the bully pulpit of labor - give us what we want, or we will all stop working. The problem with unions in situations such as these, is that they are no longer fighting unsafe workplaces and/or conditions. Laws protect Joe Average from sexual harrassment, abuse, and unfair labor practices. So the unions have to have something to do: they nitpick and push wages higher with each negotiation. (I am assuming the federal government has a employee union like other state governments do.) And why don't more people work for the state or federal government? You would think everyone would want a piece of the benefits! However, many of the jobs are boring, meaningless tasks, involving pushing paper all day. So it is not all hearts and flowers for government workers, despite the benefits. (Don't say it - I know, I know, you are crying for government workers right now.) Of course, if you know that you are going to get a pay raise regardless of your performance, how much impetus does that give you to work harder? If your seniority or job description guarantees you to a promotion or reclassification, does it matter if you goof off and write on your blog all day? (Wait, did I just write that?!) For which, workers (and taxpayers) can thank their union. Where you run into difficulties with merit-based raises, is that it brings about personal politics in an already politically-charged environment. Yes, merit-based raises are a good idea, but when working for federal government or state governments, it could be problematic. Would you be comfortable knowing that your Hispanic neighbor has not had a pay increase because the asshole she works under has a thing for white people? What if your political views determined your promotion, because your boss was a Washington D.C. Democrat? That is not to say these situations don't exist now, but it is limited because few things are merit-based within goverment employment. What to do? I don't know if there is a good answer. For the taxpayers, the solution seems easy - merit-based raises and promotions for all. And, as a taxpayer, I agree. But as a state worker, I am not convinced it will work as we want it to. However, if they can lay it out for people to see and evaluate, perhaps there is a way to do it, while still ensuring that the federal government itself truly IS an Equal Opportunity Employer.