Any objective observer of the political discourse in the city of Salem can see that there is a misinformation campaign against our public workers. It is being waged primarily by GOP Chairman David Johnson who has repeatedly misrepresented the facts as they relate to public employees.
First, it is important to note that PERS and the state retirement for police, firefighters and teachers are retirement funds those employees receive in lieu of Social Security. Such pensions are not extra windfall payments on which retirees can live lavish lifestyles. In fact, the fund that pays the retiree's benefits consists of money that was paid by those retirees during the course of their employment. Plain and simple, it is their money.
Contrary to the implication, employees are required to pay a share of the contributions to those retirements, just like in the private sector. In some instances, however, negotiations between both sides, the workers and the management, led to the pick-up of the employees' shares as a trade-off for wage freezes and other concessions. The city has benefited from such arrangements as it has been able to keep wages lower in negotiations.
For every dollar the city spends on wages, it also has to pay nearly 20 percent more to cover Medicare, Workers Compensation and the employer's share of the pension. This is not so with a dollar spent toward pension pick-ups. Negotiating the pick-up was a good business decision. It's why tax breaks for benefits were created during World War II in the first place.
Mr. Johnson has also asserted that public employees receive nine weeks of paid time off each year. He is either including extended sick leave for seriously injured and ill workers in his equation or he is not being honest about the facts. The truth is that vacation leave accrues for city workers much the same as with other workers. After one year of service, workers are entitled to two weeks vacation per year. Vacation leave is maxed out at five weeks per year for longtime veteran employees. These limits are consistent with the law and comparable to private sector totals.
Mr. Johnson continues to proclaim that the city needs an independent audit. He chides members of council who have not embraced this idea. The fact is that such an audit would be an expensive exercise in redundancy. The city is audited each year by the State Auditor's Office. Moreover, the city has its own auditor who, supposedly, is looking for ways to operate more efficiently and in compliance with the law.
It is time to get past the rhetoric and get busy with solving the problems that we face. I urge the citizens to educate themselves about all of these issues.
Larry Bowersock, chairman
Salem Democratic Party