Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Editorial: Balancing bonuses in unbalanced times

The unnamed editor is cribbing from an article in The Arizona Capitol Times you'll find here. (Did the Courier carry this in the paper version, maybe?)

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the editor equates obscenely large bonuses for executives of big corporations with standard-practice longevity bonuses for non-executive employees of municipal authorities. The logic there is undeniably weak.

But his central point is that it doesn't make sense to pay bonuses to some employees while laying off others, not too strange on the surface, especially for the majority of people, who've never received workplace bonuses other than as holiday gifts and such.

A newspaper editor is supposed to have wider knowledge than that, though. "Bonus" is a hot-button word in the media context of big-bank bailouts, but that doesn't change its real-world value as a normal part of the pay package for many. It's clear from the Capitol Times piece that this is standard practice among Valley municipalities, and it's offered to reward and retain experienced employees.

Let's bring the numbers into human perspective. This year Phoenix is putting 14.3 million clams, from a budget of over a billion, into bonuses for about 7,000 employees. This amounts to an average of a little over two grand per employee. Not a huge differential, if you ask me.

Perhaps the editor forgets that the quality of municipal services depends on the quality of the people furnishing them, and that an experienced employee is usually far more valuable than a new one. The editor's corporatist worldview tends to see workers as interchangeable and disposable, but real-world business knows better. Quality specialized workers are in constant demand, regardless of the economic weather, and municipalities are never at the top of the list of high-paying employers.

But the big fail here is that the editor doesn't bother to ask the most fundamental question: do Prescott, PV or Chino Valley include this sort of bonus in their pay packages? If so, we have something to talk about and some numbers to look at. If not, he's wasting everyone's time, as no one cares what the Courier thinks about what Mesa is doing.