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Premium pay nets city workers millions in bonuses for just doing their jobs 

Wednesday, Jan 26 2011
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Page 5 of 5

Premium pay is rightly treated as a topic separate from this argument. It's not about whether public employees work hard. It's about a substantial program of cash entitlements that in many ways no longer seems fair.

Take Jackson. The interesting thing about his situation is that for working in conditions from which most people would recoil, he receives a relatively minuscule "premium" — just $3 a day is doled out through the city's "wastewater treatment facility assignment" bonus. A much bigger source of income for him is something that every city-paid plumber gets, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant their jobs are: a 3 percent premium for possessing a certificate in backflow prevention. Everyone has the certificate, and everyone gets the bonus.

In other words, San Francisco's system of premium pay offers Jackson a paltry reward for the travails of unusually demanding work, while paying him a hefty bonus for a certification held by every other plumber in the city. That's not to mention the 7.5 percent bonus that goes to Clark, his boss, or the millions a year delivered to fire-engine-driving firefighters. For anyone convinced of both the dignity of labor and fairness in compensation — that old liberal principle of equal pay for equal work — it's hard to conclude that the current way of doing things makes sense.

View a graph showing the 2010 total premium pay by city agencies.

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Peter Jamison

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