The recent events in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to discipline the compensation and bargaining rights of public workers is exactly the kind of public controversy in which Catholics ought to have a voice… but often don’t.
Much of the debate is portrayed as a question of whether public workers are overcompensated. The New York Times constructed a graphic that attempts to get at the “complexity” of the issue, but the lens used is telling. Like most reports, the standard is a comparison between public and private wage and benefit levels. Besides the problem of comparing the diverse work forces, the bigger problem lies in the assumption that the “right” wage level is the level earned by comparable private-sector workers. But perhaps the janitorial staff at private companies is paid in an unfair way? What most of the comparisons show is that lower-level workers are paid better – sometimes significantly better – than private-sector cpounterparts, while upper-level jobs are paid better – sometimes significantly – in the private sector.
But Catholic teaching on the just wage should surely favor the distribution in the public sector, right? Yet I have not seen or heard any reports that draw this conclusion.