Friday, October 20, 2006

Misleading Job Classifications

From Bruce Eggler's column in today's Times Picayune article about city pay raises:
A survey comparing local workers' pay with that of employees of other Southern cities found that in most cases, "New Orleans city workers earn far below the regional average, with some job classifications paying as low as 48 percent below the average," she said.

I'm not arguing that New Orleans city employees are overpaid, because except for the "all star team" at the top, they're not. It's certainly not a major part of my argument against across the board raises, but I'm a little tired of statements like that being made without any context. I'd bet that New Orleans has, on average, the highest paid classified municipal employees in the region. It probably did before Katrina, it almost certainly does since the layoffs.

To illustrate, I'll give a partial job listing from the Shreveport Public Library:
Library Technician
SUMMARY: Under general supervision, this individual is responsible for
a variety of public service and technical duties in various phases of
library operations, can function with occasional monitoring of work
progress and work quality by immediate supervisor and performs related
work as required.

High school diploma or equivalent, plus 30 semester hours of
successful college course work. [Three or more years of paid,
full-time, directly related (e.g. service or retail) experience may
substitute for the college requirement.]

Some knowledge of: (1) standard library principles, practices and
procedures; (2) electronic and printed materials, resources and databases.

Ability to: (1) make decisions based on established policies as well
as common sense; (2) use resourcefulness, tact and courtesy in dealing
with library patrons; (3) relate and communicate effectively with
other employees and the public; (4) understand and carry out complex
oral and written instructions; (5) type accurately and efficiently and
use a computer.


* Provides reference/readers' advisory assistance; assists patrons
in the selection of materials and the use of the other library
facilities and services; answers routine questions; takes interlibrary
loan requests.
* Charges, discharges and renews books and other library
materials; assesses and collects fines; registers new patrons and
updates registration records.
* Assists public with various computer applications.
* Shelves books; straightens books on shelves; reads shelves for
proper order of books; searches for lost books and materials.
* Performs other necessary duties as required.

Tuesday – Wednesday: 11:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Thursday – Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Tuesday – Wednesday: 10:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Thursday – Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

$1594/month + benefits

That job listing could be for almost any university or public library system in the state. But it couldn't be for the New Orleans Public Library--the NOPL doesn't have library technicians. A similar listing for the New Orleans Public Library (pre-Katrina) would have been for a library associate, would have required a college, paid almost three thousand a year more, had a work schedule that was five hours a week shorter and had all the same job duties. Well, it wouldn't have said anything about shelving books, many associates thought that was beneath their dignity. Most library systems have librarians (with an MLS) and "support staff"--associates, technicians, assistants or aides and pages (or student workers).

In New Orleans, the library system is composed almost entirely of librarians and associates, with a few (mostly part time) pages whose primary duties involve shelving books. Associates in New Orleans tend to get paid less than associates elsewhere, but most of the associates would be technicians or, the even less well-paid, assistants. Associates in other systems tend to have far greater responsibilities--my immediate supervisor in a university library is an associate; she makes slightly more than I did as a New Orleans Public Library associate, but she has far greater responsibilities. If an army calls all of its privates "sergeants", it's going to have low paid sergeants.

Sorry to keep using my old department, but as the Picayune article made clear, it's almost impossible to get accurate information about employment and payroll for city government. At least in the library, the majority of employees start at a higher positions than in other cities. Again, this isn't a major point; it has nothing to do with cost of living, merit or longevity raises that employees are eligible for in other cities. But the city and the SEIU do keep making a major point based on a somewhat misleading statistic. It seems to me that if the average pay were still that low, the city and the SEIU would release hard data, not anecdotes about the relatively few remaining poorly paid employees.

For what it's worth, the local chapter of the SEIU does share an address and some leadership with the local chapter of ACORN. Of course, it may honestly believe that across the board pay raises are more important than rehiring.

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