USA Today provides us with another great example of the standards dance – where opposing sides make their case as to why their standards are the “most fair.” In researching compensation differences between government employees and private sector employees, USA Today analysts found that federal civilian workers earned double what their private counterparts earned.
A representative from the libertarian Cato Institute pointed to the results as proof that federal workers are overpaid, in effect saying their compensation is “unfairly high” based solely on the standard of a head to head market comparison.
Public employee union representatives countered that the Cato conclusion wasn’t appropriate because it wasn’t an apples to apples comparison. To support their conclusion that federal workers are “fairly” compensated, they point out that federal jobs on average require higher levels of skill and education than do private sector jobs. They thus suggest the appropriate standard to determine “fair” compensation is not just the job itself, but also the level of skill and education required to appropriately perform that job. If you use this standard, they suggest, public employees’ compensation looks much more “fair.”
As we’ve mentioned here before, research the applicable standards before your negotiation. Then come prepared to use your most favorable ones and discredit your most unfavorable ones. The bottom line – be prepared to negotiate with your counterpart over which objective criteria and standards are the most appropriate.