DOUG ROSS: Pay attention to many pay disparities

2013-02-08T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Pay attention to many pay disparitiesBy Doug Ross, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357

When USW District 7 Director Jim Robinson railed about pay disparities last month, he was talking about the private sector. If he thinks that system is broken, he should see what's happening in the public sector.

Robinson's point at The Times Board of Economists meeting wasn't solely about fairness, per se, but about how increasing workers' pay is necessary to boost the economy.

"The gains from productivity have been going somewhere else than the workers," Robinson said. "So why is it a surprise that no one is buying a new car?"

He was referring to the disparity between CEO pay and the average worker's pay. The Economic Policy Institute reported last May that between 1979 and 2011, CEO compensation rose more than 725 percent, while the average worker's compensation rose 5.7 percent.

Compare that to the public sector, where there has been attention lately to salaries being out of whack.

Lake County Assessor Hank Adams complained to the county commissioners Wednesday that the Council Council diverted more than $26,000 last year from his office's reassessment budget to provide bonuses — in the guise of per-diem wages — to the county's five township assessors.

One result was that Calumet Township Assessor Jacqueline Collins got paid more than Adams last year.

Adams' answer is to consolidate all the assessment work at the county level, which makes sense to most people in the 21st century.

Referendums are a lousy way to bring reforms like this, though. The Indiana General Assembly eliminated most township assessor jobs but asked the voters to decide whether to eliminate those jobs in the biggest townships. Not surprisingly, voters in Lake County kept the antiquated system in place for five of the six affected townships, which enables pay disparities.

In Portage, compensation disparity between union and nonunion workers has been a hot topic lately.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to grant 37 nonunion employees a 3 percent pay raise to compensate for changes in their health insurance plan.

Should all this come to the attention of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who could lobby the Legislature to bring some sense to government pay disparities?

That would be ironic because those disparities exist in his office, too. Pence's legislative director, Heather Neal, earns $7,912.32 more than her boss. Think she would want to see her pay reduced so the governor earns more than her?

Neal is one of two people in the governor's office paid more than their boss. Chief of Staff Bill Smith Jr. earns $13,312 more than Pence.

Care to take on the subject of public sector pay disparities as well, Mr. Robinson?

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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