Time to start paying people what they’re worth

Every once in a while, a newspaper does an investigative report on how much money people make in their jobs. The readers really love that stuff. If I read it correctly, both the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Albany Times Union report that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson was paid more than $7 million last year. Hey, even taking inflation into account, that’s a great deal of money. I have a wonderful public radio colleague in New York who earns more than $500,000 a year and from where I sit, that’s also a lot of money. I think she’s worth it, although in the public radio model one wonders whether contributors who are sending in their hard-earned money might be turned off by that kind of salary for the chief executive.

Hey, sometimes it’s worth it to pay people a lot of money in order to buy their expertise. In the case of RPI, you have a president who has taken a good — but not absolutely top — college and made it into a leader among academic institutions. She has brought in millions and millions of dollars. Doesn’t it make sense to pay her before she goes somewhere else and gets the millions for them? Ball players make millions of dollars because they have good reflexes while our school teachers have to get second jobs in liquor stores to barely make ends meet. To put it mildly, “That ain’t right.”

There are a lot of “intervening variables” to be considered. Stage hands at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center make obscene amount of money for a limited amount of work. Doormen in Manhattan apartment buildings are paid huge amounts of money. Both groups are well represented by unions. I recently met a New York man who is charged with fixing things that have gone wrong in co-op apartments. He was approached with a job offer to become a superintendent in a ritzy building. He told me that he turned it down because it was a nonunion building. Apparently, even though there are signs that Americans have long been eschewing unions, there are still unions like the ones representing the stage hands and the doormen that have produced tangible results for their members. Some unions fight like crazy for their people and impose major sanctions should their workers be called out on strike. I know a woman who told me that every time a contract comes up for New York doormen, she gets a letter saying that she might have to serve as a door person should a strike come about. While these actions have come to pass in the past, for the most part they don’t happen these days and the doormen and porters have their way and get the raises they are asking for.

In any case, it cannot be denied that Alex Rodriguez should not be making more money than a school teacher at Monument Mountain High School. Alex was born with the instincts to hit a ball. He has the height and the muscle power and he’s paid what the open market has determined he’s worth. Our teacher, on the other hand, not only has to be an expert in her subject matter but now has to shiver in the cold because of the misguided action of a few noneducated voters in the school district. There will always be some angry people with too much time on their hands who deny the folks who drive the trucks that remove the snow the ability to make the kind of living they deserve. Every time I read an article about how right-wing screamers oppose an increase in the minimum wage, I shake my head and wonder just how self-delusional these folks are. On the other hand, this is America, with everything it stands for.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 2/21/15

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