You get what you pay for with city government

One of my “crossing the Rubicon” moments came upon me about twenty years ago, when I went to the main branch of the old San Francisco public library (before it moved to its snazzy, very expensive new digs), and tried to check out a book.  I found myself standing in a line of about 60 people, all waiting to check out their books.

Standing on tip-toe (remember, I’m short), I was able to see that there were three active stations, each with a library employee checking out the books.  Considering that checking out books isn’t “rocket surgery,” I was at a loss to figure out why it was taking so long.  I discovered the problem when I got to the head of the line:  the clerks weren’t trying very hard.  To be honest, they weren’t trying at all.  Watching molasses drip on a cold day would be a more scintillating experience than watching these public servants processing the public.  To add insult to injury, they were rude too.

I walked out thinking this to myself:  “I doubt anyone of those clerks is paid more than about $28,000 per year, plus benefits.  That’s $84,000 cash per year, not including the benefits.  Why don’t they just hire one good person for $50,000 (plus benefits, of course), and get the job done right at a savings to the City of $34,000 per year, plus two unused benefits packages?  But of course, that couldn’t happen.  The unions would never go for it.  Their goal is to have as many employees as possible who, once they get their jobs, can never be fired, no matter how shoddy their work.  This isn’t about serving San Franciscans, this is about maximum employment for union members.”

I walked out of that library much more conservative than when I walked into that library.

This memory came back to me courtesy of an Instapundit post (hat tip:  Earl):

MORE ON THOSE UNDERFUNDED / OVERGENEROUS PUBLIC PENSIONS: Report: SF Pension Crisis Much Worse than City Claims: Adachi-commissioned analysis puts gap at $6.8 billion–not official figure of $1.6 billion. “The city’s pension fund is officially underfunded by $1.6 billion. Nation’s study argues that the pension fund is relying on a 7.75 percent annual rate of return that is unrealistic over the long term. The study argues for 6.2 percent, which it says was the average rate of return in the capital markets from 1900 through 1999.” Frankly, that “conservative” number looks overoptimistic to me. 4% is probably more realistic.

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  • Charles

    You get what you pay for with city government”

    Shouldn’t that read you do NOT get what you pay for with union workers? 

    Many years ago, the office where I was working was near a bad intersection in which there were regularly acccidents that would take out the utility pole.  As a result our office would lose electricty for an hour or two while they replaced the pole and restored electric service.  Being a software company this was not good.

    One time it happened around 9:30 am and our office manager quickly called the local hotel to see if they had electricty and a conference room where we could set up shop for the day.  Puzzled, I asked her why.  She said, as a matter of factly, that the electricty will be out ALL day.  I wasn’t sure how she could know this as the pole was the same one always taken out.  Sure enough come 4:55 pm the electricty was restored.  Why the long time to restore the power?  It was Columbus day, an official government holiday, and that meant the union workers were getting triple overtime, so they milked it for all it was worth.

  • Kirk Strong

    Or perhaps it should read “You get what you reward.”
    What I find puzzling is that Tom O’Connor, head of the Firefighters Union, is trying to minimize the problem.  If I were head of the union, I would be at City Hall demanding to know what they plan to do about this situation and how they going to take care of my guys.
    Perhaps Mr. O’Connor has other priorities, higher than the welfare of his union members — maybe like covering his own backside?  How does a city get this far behind in its obligations to its workers without union leaders screaming bloody murder?  The only answer I can think of is very ugly.

  • ConnectTheDots

    The Columbus (OH) Metropolitan Library ( is frequently chosen as the country’s best library. Many years ago, they had a terrible film-based card catalog (after they phased out the REAL cards), it took forever to check out, the libraries had short hours, hardly ever had new books.
    I’m not sure when their direction changed, but now we have self-checkout (so they spend $2,000 once on a computer to do what the clerks that cost $60,000 a year once did), a computerized card catalog, online book searches & reservations.
    We’ve even had several bond issues/levys NOT passed recently, and the library continues to thrive. You can actually sign up for a library card at one of the computers.
    The only down side to the library is they frequently have lefties in front of the libraries asking people to sign their petitions. I’m amazed at how little the petitioners really know about the issues they’re getting signatures for…

  • Bookworm

    I guess I was thinking that, if you pay for the union, you get the union!

  • Ymarsakar

    This isn’t about serving San Franciscans, this is about maximum employment for union members.”

    That’s how they create armies. Do you see the logistical setup they have fabricated. More people means more manpower, more protest strength, more popularity, and more votes. And more money they can launder from the government.

    And do you know the real reason the Left didn’t like Bush’s Patriot Act monitoring library books? Because they didn’t want anybody seeing how horrible a job they were doing in their libraries. And they didn’t want the extra work of “checking” any such thing as what kinds of books people loaned out.

    Home made weapons and technical specifications? We’re not paid for that, suckers.

  • Ymarsakar

    I guess I was thinking that, if you pay for the union, you get the union!

    If you like the union you have, you can keep your union!

  • jj

    The union levels the playing field, sort of in reverse.  It allows people who would be – more or less reflexively – slung out of jobs where actual performance to a standard was a requirement, to stay employed, and even get automatic raises every year based on nothing more than longevity.  “Meriting” a raise, or the concept of having “earned” a raise – they need not apply.  You can be the single lamest bozo in the history of your job in North America, and still retain the job.  The object of unions is to insure the inept are never – I guess the most accurate word would be “discriminated” against – for doing a crappy job.  Unions protect the worthless employees, not the good ones.  And, of course, the sociological effect of this is that if there should happen to be a good employee, he’s going to end up wondering why he’s the only one in the office doing any of the work.  Soon he’ll make the entirely logical decision that the extra effort benefits him not at all, so he might as well sit on his ass and light up a smoke.  Thus unions , by their leveling effect in reverse, contribute to the decline of the entire edifice.

  • JKB

    The efficiency of most workers is beyond the control of the management and depends more than has been supposed upon the willingness of men to do their best.
    — Sumner H. Slichter

    The union is designed to protect those who won’t do their best by lumping them in with the good workers.  The result is surprisingly a race to the bottom with no one willing to put in a days work since the pay and advancement has no relation to effort.  There are pockets of union workers who have been able to keep the virus out of their little group but once a slacker is forced on them, the entire unit declines.

  • David Foster

    There is a positive feedback loop (aka vicious circle) between the de-skilling of jobs and bad attitudes on the part of workers. If your workers just don’t care, you want to make individual performance as controlled and predictable as possible. And if a worker’s every action is tightly controlled, he is unlikely to have a highly-positive attitude about his work. Hence the feedback loop.

  • Jose

    The last time I was in my small town library, I was in the history section when a nice young lady asked if she could help me find something.  I specifically wanted a copy of Gibbons, but doubted if she would know who that was.  I told her I was looking for information on the Roman Empire, and she suggested biographies.
    I expect her paycheck is small, but she is still overpaid.  If she was working in the private sector, it would probably be smaller yet.