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Want a six-figure job? Become a libertarian anti-rail activist

Oregon Capitol News, an interesting journalism project funded by our local free-market think tank, released a database of TriMet employee salaries Monday, finding that bus driver Alan Raaberg, who had apparently been averaging more than 60 hours of work per week, was taking home $100,041 a year.


If you include benefits, at least 24 bus drivers, six MAX operators and one streetcar operator were earning more than $100,000.

Newsworthy? I’d say so. But I thought it was only fair to look at salaries inside the Cascade Policy Institute, the tax-exempt not-for-profit that funded this report.

Whaddaya know? The latest figures (from 2008) show their CEO John Charles making $101,250 a year for an estimated reported 40 hours of work per week. (Charles responds! See note below.) If I’m reading the CPI’s staff page correctly, Charles manages a staff of 10.

john charlesIs John Charles ridiculously overpaid?

How can we possibly judge?

I’ve gotten to know Charles a bit in the last year, and I like and respect him personally despite our political differences. I’m sure he’d argue that his healthy salary, which he apparently earns despite working 20 fewer hours each week than Mr. Raaberg (again, see note below), reflects the value of his unique talents and knowledge. He’d probably be right.

Do you suppose that Raaberg’s $100,041 annual pay reflects the value of his own unique talents and knowledge? Do you suppose Raaberg and other $25-an-hour bus drivers are talented people who could have pursued other lucrative careers if they’d wanted to?

Of course.

I’m not saying every union worker is great, or that TriMet workers aren’t in for a major benefits cut sooner or later. But if you’re trying to tell me this cut will come at no cost to the public – that we can slash our bus drivers’ compensation without struggling to attract hard-working and gifted employees in the future, then I’m going to conclude that you must not believe in the free market.

11 p.m. update! Charles writes to point out that his compensation includes almost no fringe benefits (see also his comment below) and also to note that "The ’40 hour’ work week standard is just a formality for tax purposes. Every CEO works a lot more than 40 hours." Fair enough.

(Photo of John Charles courtesy Sarah Mirk.)

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