why do sanitation workers make more than police officers
January 27, 2005 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Is there some sort of civic reasoning as to why sanitation workers generally make more than police officers?

Insert preemptive 'taking out the trash comment' here.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
All other things being equal, few people would want to be a cop, but even fewer would want to be a garbage man.

It's a supply and demand thing.
posted by bshort at 7:32 AM on January 27, 2005


Ah. Thanks.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 7:37 AM on January 27, 2005


Because they provide a more useful/necessary service?
posted by rushmc at 7:43 AM on January 27, 2005


I've always assumed, based on nothing specific, that it was because they had a stronger union with more perks for seniority, or steeper pay increases, or pay tied more closely to inflation. Police officers can make up for lack of hourly pay with overtime in a way that sanitation workers can't, so my feeling is that even though the base pay rate is unequal in one direction, the overtime [and pensions, do sanitation workers get pensions?] can skew take-home pay in the other direction.
posted by jessamyn at 7:50 AM on January 27, 2005


In NYC at least, sanitation workers are responsible for snow removal, which provides a huge amount of overtime. Seems like jessamyn is correct on the whole though, as even given that police make ~double the overtime of sanitation workers. (Source: NYC Comptroller).

There's an interesting week-long diary of a sanitation worker on slate, it mentions overtime & snow on Friday, and talks about labor politics and other issues as well.
posted by true at 8:00 AM on January 27, 2005


One could also look at it in terms of non-monetary compensation. Cops get authority, power and (a kind of) social status with their position -- so there's incentive to work a police type job even if the pay is lower than another position without those perks, or even a less hazardous one.

On the other hand, nobody's mother wants their child to grow up to be a sanitation worker, and the job carries no intangible perks but only has detrimental factors in that vein.

Preview: What bshort said.
posted by Mark Doner at 8:12 AM on January 27, 2005


The reason we don't see many retired sanitation workers is that job is tough on the body, especially the back. Another reason why they get paid more I guess.
posted by Tacodog at 8:47 AM on January 27, 2005


You'd have to pay me a lot more to pick up garbage than to be a cop.
posted by waldo at 9:08 AM on January 27, 2005


Of course we don't see many retired police officers either because they are killed in the line of duty.

To answer the question I think more information is needed. In large cities where garbage pick-up is handled by a city agency salary may be comparable to police officer salaries.

Outside of large cities garbage pick-up is often contracted out to private firms where salaries are much less than what municipal sanitation workers are paid.
posted by mlis at 10:33 AM on January 27, 2005


Of course we don't see many retired police officers either because they are killed in the line of duty.

Since when? Maybe in Iraq.
posted by angry modem at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2005


Of course we don't see many retired police officers either because they are killed in the line of duty.

That's possibly the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

Let's take a sample state like New Jersey. According to this set of statistics the average number of New Jersey officers killed over the past 10 years has been 1.2, out of a total population of 20,794 officers.

So, no. The reason you don't see lots of retired police officers almost certainly has to do more with your sample size (your friends) rather than the fact that they're all killed in the line of duty.
posted by bshort at 11:06 AM on January 27, 2005


For the same reason that railroad workers and nurses are paid well relative to their education: it's relatively unpleasant work and if they were not paid well, many would choose to do something else, and you'd have a labour shortage.
posted by mcwetboy at 11:21 AM on January 27, 2005


Number of police officers killed in the US in the line of duty in 2004: 154.

Number of police officers killed at the WTC on September 11, 2001: 60.

I would welcome information about the number of sanitation workers killed in the line of duty every year.

Another thing to remember in the post-9/11 world, is that the next time there is a terrorist attack in the US, police officers will, once again, be on the front line.
posted by mlis at 12:10 PM on January 27, 2005


Stats for 2003 (PDF):

Refuse and recyclable material collectors: 42 fatalities
Police officers: 129

(That is actually a fascinating document. 91 "first-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers" died that year from "assaults and violent acts.")
posted by smackfu at 12:22 PM on January 27, 2005


MLIS - Here you go.

It looks like being a sanitation worker is *way* more dangerous than being a cop.
posted by bshort at 12:24 PM on January 27, 2005


Actually MLIS:

Policing may be dangerous, but it is not the most dangerous job available. In terms of total fatalities, more truck drivers are killed than any other kind of worker (852 in the year 2000).

A better measure of occupational risk, however, is the rate of work-related deaths per 100,000 workers. In 2000, for example, it was 27.6 for truck drivers. At 12.1 deaths per 100,000, policing is slightly less dangerous than mowing lawns, cutting hedges, and running a wood-chipper: Groundskeepers suffer 14.9 deaths per 100,000. By occupation, the highest rate of fatalities is among timber cutters, at 122.1 per 100,000.


(Statistics from: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Injuries in 2000. Via Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Kristian Williams.)
posted by dame at 12:30 PM on January 27, 2005


Policemen are paid less but in exchange they get to shoot people.
posted by TimeFactor at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2005


I thought that meat-packing workers suffered the most per capita injuries. This is the only source I could find.
posted by TimeFactor at 1:32 PM on January 27, 2005


A lot of police officers do "twenty and out" then retire with an excellent pension and join the private sector as security consultants, etc. I would think that most sanitation workers are lifers.
posted by fixedgear at 1:55 PM on January 27, 2005


In New York City, sanitation workers are paid a maximum of $48,996 after five years plus (possibly) some differential pay.

A NYC Police Officer earns over $44,000, on average, in the first year and over $70,000, on average, after five years.
posted by WestCoaster at 2:27 PM on January 27, 2005


According to the slate link above, in NYC the sanitation workers can take an excellent lifetime pension after 20 years. Doubt they have much success as sanitation consultants, though.
posted by kenko at 2:27 PM on January 27, 2005


All other things being equal, few people would want to be a cop, but even fewer would want to be a sanitation worker.

Right now, there are thousands of applicants for NYC sanitation worker jobs:

"Physical tests have been administered ... to those who passed the written exam with list #'s below 4500. ... letters [have been sent] to those eligible candidates with list #s through 2525 to appear for pre-employment orientation sessions ... . To date, DSNY has reached list number 1853 for appointment to Sanitation Worker."

So those with numbers between 1854 and 4499 are somewhat in process, and those with numbers above 4499 (how many - thousands?) are still waiting to take a written exam. And all 4500+ applied on or after 2/18/2004.

For those who think that the demand for this kind of job (full-time, full benefits, only a high school degree required) is very low (and that this low demand explains the high wages) - do you have any evidence? Stories of public agencies spending large amounts of money to advertise vacant positions? Reports that positions go unfilled because no one can be found who is interested? Walk-in employment? Because my sense (sorry, no links) is exactly the opposite - that where there is a union, jobs that pay a lot more than the minimum wage, with good benefits, including retirement in 20 years, and low educational requirements, there will be more than an adequate number of applicants.
posted by WestCoaster at 2:39 PM on January 27, 2005


That bit in the Slate story about a guy getting showered with hydrofluoric acid... *shudder*
posted by kindall at 3:08 PM on January 27, 2005


or the same reason that railroad workers and nurses are paid well relative to their education: it's relatively unpleasant work and if they were not paid well

Not sure about railworkers but I work with many nurses and believe me, they don't do it for the pay. Most truly enjoy the work, and that's why they stay nurses. If anything, they would tell you they were underpaid.

What is unpleasent to many is often routine for a nurse.

On a side note, nurses have a very strong union. That always helps.
posted by justgary at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2005


I thought that meat-packing workers suffered the most per capita injuries.

I thought it was traffic-director people, like at construction sites.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 8:28 PM on January 27, 2005


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