Tom Ross: Pizza for the proletariat
February 22, 2011
Steamboat Springs — I've delivered pizzas in the state capital of Wisconsin, where I've joined in protest marches. But I never delivered pepperoni pizzas to protesters inside the Capitol in Madison.
So it came as a surprise Monday to learn from Politico that people from all across the globe are ordering deluxe pizzas from Ian's Pizza parlor in Mad Town and having them delivered to the protesters in a show of cheesy solidarity. The rabble-rousers object to provisions in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill that they say are certain to end the right of public employees to bargain for the terms of their employment.
Politico reported that after one patron called to donate $200 to help feed the protesters maintaining vigil at the state Capitol, the pizza joint used Twitter and Facebook to spread the word.
Soon, orders began coming in from all across the world, even from Egypt. In all, Ian's distributed more than 1,000 free slices and sent 300 pizzas to the Capitol.
Madison is a city in a state with a long history of political movements and feisty newspapers that stick up for public workers. It all goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and progressive Republican Gov. Robert Lafollette. But that's a history book.
Today, the state faces budget shortfalls of between $2 billion and $3 billion depending on whom you consult. Gov. Walker apparently has decided that the unions for public employees are too influential and contributing to the state budget crisis.
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A June 2010 story in the Wisconsin State Journal that reported that three bus drivers were among the 25 highest paid employees of the city of Madison may have contributed to the perception that public employees are over-represented in the badger state.
The State Journal obtained the city's earnings database and concluded that city workers were paid $15 million in extra earnings, including $7.3 million in overtime in 2009.
It also came as a surprise to read last year that one city transit driver in Madison knocked down more than $150,000 in salary. Really? A bus driver earning 150 large in salary and OT?
One senior transit driver, the newspaper reported, earned $49,366 in straight time and $78,571 in overtime plus about another $20,000 realized by cashing out sick leave and vacation time, arriving at a grand total of $159,258.
Two more bus drivers' compensation records told similar stories.
Why would bus drivers forego so much sick leave and vacation time? Perhaps because they knew their future pensions would be based on their three highest years of annual compensation, including all of the extras.
Do ya think some of the newspaper's readers were incensed, eh?
When Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz expressed displeasure with the extra compensation that went to the bus drivers, The Capital Times newspaper (the two newspapers in Wisconsin's capital city are conjoined at a Web page, http://www.madison.com) published an editorial telling hizzhonor to stop whining, and laid much of the responsibility for the large paychecks to mismanagement of the transit system.
"A bus driver who works hundreds of overtime hours and earns more than $150,000 a year is not ripping the city off," The Capital Times wrote. "He or she is working hard to deliver a necessary service."
Of course, there are many different types of hard-working public employees in the great state of Wisconsin, many of whom accept significant danger in their working lives. I'm not saying they don't deserve to bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions. And the state's fiscal crisis is complicated way beyond my understanding.
I'm just offering some insight into some of the factors behind this brouhaha that has captured the national news.
Top my proletarian pizza pie with sausage, mushroom and a sprinkling of tolerance.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com