Get rich, work overtime: Lessons from Oregon's public employees

One of the best-paid public employees in all of the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area wasn't a mayor or a chief operating officer; he didn't have an advanced degree or irreplaceable skills. He didn't even have a fancy title, like "sergeant" or "lieutenant." He just worked a lot.

In an article investigating taxpayer-funded salaries, The Oregonian this week highlighted the career of Jeffrey S. Campbell, communications shift leader. He works for Clackamas County in the dispatch center, fielding calls and coordinating emergency responses. His earnings in the fiscal year 2007-2008: $150,798.66, over $91,000 of that in overtime pay. That's 1,716 extra hours in one year, or 33 hours a week of overtime. Employees with seniority get first dibs on overtime shifts; with 14 years in the dispatch center, Campbell gets a lot. Other public employees raking in the big overtime dough included corrections deputies and corrections sergeants in Clackamas and Multnomah County, ranging from $61K to nearly $77K in overtime pay, and bringing in total salaries in the mid-$100s.

All this proves: it pays to work long, long hours. None of the "case studies" mentioned whether these workers had families waiting for them at home, though all of them insisted that they worked efficiently without much rest.

Taxpayers shouldn't get too concerned over the enormous overtime pay, a related article points out; it's often cheaper for the county to pay overtime than to hire a new employee, and as workers with lots of overtime are typically more tenured, the argument is that the tax dollars for training and employment costs are being put to fairly efficient use. As I encourage my husband to apply to a job as a dispatcher, I have to wonder: is this kind of employment sustainable, either for the employees in question or for an environment of fast-decreasing tax revenues?

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