Glance a few seconds at the 2 minute video above. It’s one relatively small, concrete example of why much of the public sector in Illinois is approaching insolvency and why, for example, there’s no money to build much needed high school options for Chicago families like Central City High School: That is, unless you’re a politically connected charter school operator that wants to use the public purse for personal reasons.
The 5 City employees in the video took an hour to trim 3 trees that had been reported to 311 last July by neighbors (there’s a truck driver, not seen in the video, who never has to work other than driving). Tree trimming is a 2 or 3, at most, person job unless you consider Chicago’s archaic “make-work” rules. For an hour, only one of the workers—the one holding the chainsaw while standing in the lift—did much work. Downtime of large numbers of employees on public job sites is routine in Chicago. It’s very costly, lowers productivity and siphons large amounts of money from worthy and necessary projects.
Chicago has many great public employees who are often just cogs in a very dysfunctional system. The one Forestry employee with whom I spoke was polite and professional and never tried to defend the “make work” aspects of the job site that I raised with him. He showed me the 311 call sheet the crew was using and also told me that Chicago has a backlog of 20,000 dead trees that need to be removed. The City will never get to all these trees in our lifetimes at this rate. Those dead trees won’t be replaced any time soon either; so much for “clean and green” Chicago.
According to the City Data Portal, Streets and Sanitation’s 366 Motor Truck Drivers earn an average salary of $73,041 give or take a thousand dollars. There are 437 Streets and Sanitation Pool Motor Truck Drivers, 304 of whom earn an average salary of $72,850 and 133 of whom earn an average salary of only $14,982 (they may be well compensated seasonal employees). The 64 Tree trimmers earn an average of $75,928 give or take a few dollars and 188 general laborers earn an average salary of $42,456.
There is also administrative overhead of a total of 226 Streets and Sanitation positions such as Admin. Asst’s., Asst. Commissioners, Asst. Division Superintendents, Asst. General Superintendents, Asst’s. to the Commissioner, Asst. to the Exec. Dir., Deputy Commissioners, Division Superintendents, Equipment Dispatchers, and several other job categories earning an average salary of $83,813, not to mention the 17 Dept. of Transportation employees who all earn $65,748 to tie signs around trees when tree trimming and other City services need to be delivered—tying a knot with string must be some skill. This bloated overhead, along with the substantial pension and other generous benefits these employees receive, dramatically increases the cost of public services.
So, at City of Chicago there’s not much money sitting around for important projects. At CPS there’s no money to be used on high school construction. The Chicago Teachers Union, CPS executives and politicians all ensured that by cutting deals to avoid adequately funding employee retirement. Inadequately funding public pensions for decades, while simultaneously building a culture of incredible tolerance for gaming the public pension systems, has helped turn the Land of Lincoln into the Land of Logrolling with a fleecing of taxpayers soon to follow.
I deeply appreciate the very important role organized labor has played in America’s history. A great grandfather of mine, an Irish immigrant who achieved success for himself and his family as an electrician in Chicago, was a founding member of the IBEW Local 134 in Chicago who may have paid for his union activism with his life. He died traumatically on the job under very suspicious circumstances in 1921 at the age of 57 while trying to organize the Armour and Company meat packing plant on Chicago’s south side, made infamous by Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” where he had worked beginning in 1888 not long after coming to this country from Ireland. What would this country’s pioneering labor and political leaders think of today’s politicians and public employee labor movement which have had such negative impacts on the public purse?
The political leaders in Springfield fight among themselves like 5th grade bullies while spewing their thin political spin, invective and other nonsense at the public, while Illinois residents vote with their feet by moving out in seemingly record numbers. If you really want to be informed, and depressed, about how corrupt, dysfunctional and arrogant the political leadership in Illinois is, read these two pieces: Forbes Illinois pension piece and Andy Shaw’s BGA Chicago Sun Times piece. My friend Adam, who wrote the Forbes’ piece, also helped break the story about the highly questionable practices of the new Illinois Auditor General. As we have recently learned from the wrangling over the scope of the Chicago IG’s overview of City Council functions by entrenched, self-interested aldermen, the political class in Illinois hates oversight; it prefers the dark, just like mushrooms do.