You are busting your ass every minute of every day--for 15 years mind you--but you aren't being rewarded in kind. If only people at this company were paid for the actual work they do, you think, I'd be making $35 an hour. Easy. Hell, I might even own this company in a few years. Along comes a Republican demagogue speaking about "Merit Pay" and "Merit Performance Evaluation" and you think someone has finally answered your prayers.
In a perfect world, "Merit Pay" would be a terrific idea. Alas, we don't live in a perfect world. Not even close.
The classic argument against "Merit Pay" and "Merit Performance" focuses on some of our human imperfections. It is said that "brown-nosing" and "nepotism" would be substituted for considerations of true merit. And, having worked in such an environment, I'd say the point has some validity.
As a capitalistic society, America's dollar is the almighty--not raggin' on it, just pointing it out as fact--and, as such, any "Merit" review will be heavily weighted toward an employee's performance vis-a-vis that dollar.
In the example we began with, the employee who busts his ass every minute of every day believes that, with a "Merit Pay" system, he might be making $35 an hour. The reality is that that employee would never be given $35 an hour so long as the company gets full effort from him for half of that. In fact, that employee had better be prepared to continue busting his ass for less, so long as there are employees to be had--no matter how hard they work--for $9 an hour. And that employee had better be prepared to bust his ass even more for even less, so long as the work can be outsourced to places where the workers make less than $9 A WEEK.
The "Merit" and "Performance" being evaluated, in any capitalistic environment, are always going to be the "Merit" of the company and the "Performance" of their profit margin--so it's never purely a matter of how hard you work and how much you produce, but rather a calculation of your value versus your cost. It is these same "Merit" evaluations that result in exploding cars and exploding oil drilling platforms in the Gulf; some bean counter somewhere determined that the cost of safety exceeded the cost (for the company) of massive failure and human carnage. What makes you think that your value as a human being would be weighted any differently that the worth of the eleven who died as a result of BP's financial corner cutting?
It's easy enough to be drawn into the weeds on so-called "public education reform". Education is a complex subject and there simply is no clear line cause and effect between teacher and student performance. There are many flavors of "merit pay" when it comes to public education and studies on the subject have been ambiguous and inconclusive--allowing both sides to cite the same studies in support of their arguments. But "the weeds" is just where the demagogue wants this argument. Most people don't do nuance and complicated. It seems perfectly logical--stripping away all the realities of the world--that paying more for better results will mean better results overall.
Well, I'm sorry to break this to you, but you can't strip away all the realities of the world. And the reality of OUR world is that any system that is based on money is going to be about the money--not about results.
It's simple math. I have "X" dollars to spend which is enough to buy two exceptional teachers or ten mediocre teachers or, heck, I can buy 20 really lousy teachers and still pocket a bit extra for myself.
In an educational system driven by the almighty dollar--without the checks and balances of unions, tenure and Last In First Out--the teachers with the most experience, no matter how exceptional, will always be let go in favor of newer (and therefor cheaper) teachers. If anything, the better teachers would be in even greater jeopardy since the best teachers generally seek even more resources (e.g. newer text books, better equipment, field trips). "Pay for Performance" can't help but be about the money. "Performance" will never enter into the evaluations at all.
Contrary to what the demagogues have told you, union rules exist to protect the best employees...not the worst. Tenure, for example, does not make it impossible to fire bad teachers--it simply sets up a procedure for firing that is objective, consistent, and fair for all employees--a system that protects the best teachers from being removed for financial reasons or without any cause whatsoever. Ironically, the reason poor employees often survive is because those in management are too lazy and arrogant to do their jobs in that process properly. Contrary to what demagogues have told you, unions oppose Merit Pay because it will result in putting the good teachers in jeopardy and eliminate any sense of fairness in the workplace. Seniority is the union's preferred method of employee comparison, not because it protects bad employees, but because it is absolutely objective and because no other measure of performance, practiced or proposed, ever has been.
In the end analysis, "Merit Performance pay" is not about incentivizing better performance through higher pay, it's all about union busting. Like everything else the oligarchy advocates, "Merit Performance" is all about pitting the workers against each other, fighting for crumbs, while the richest among us get richer off the labor of others. If there were any reality to "Merit Pay", even as a viable theory, why would pay and benefits have remained flat (or declined) for the vast majority of Americans when their productivity has risen to record levels?
And, for all the bashing of public sector unions of late, their compensation has remained every bit as flat as that of private sector workers. More so, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
To fix the American economy--if it even can be fixed at this point--we first have to acknowledge the real problem. The real problem is not your neighbor, the teacher, the union worker, the fireman, policeman, nurse--they're all in the same boat you are. The real problem is corporate greed and money in politics. I don't really begrudge anyone who earns their wealth, but I very much resent those who have so rigged the system that they no longer have to earn and anyone who isn't already a member of the club never can.
1) America needs serious campaign finance reform. It's likely only a Constitutional Amendment will work, at this point, declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech.
2) America needs higher taxes on the most well off. We have more than 30 years of hard evidence that lower taxes do not result in job creation (certainly not in this country) and we need the additional revenue to deal with deficits and, more importantly, for investment (beginning with infrastructure) in our nation. We certainly can't continue with a system that allows billionaires to pay a lower tax rate than the working poor and corporations to pay no US taxes at all, as two out of every three US corporations do.
The CEO of Conoco-Phillips, one of the most profitable companies in the world, seems to think asking them to sacrifice even a tiny bit is un-American. This is right in line with the sense of entitlement the wealthy have always felt, from those who tossed women and children from the lifeboats on the Titanic to Leona Helmsley, who famously said "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."
3) America needs more and stronger unions and more and stronger union protections. If there is one correlation that can be directly made, it is that middle class income has declined in direct proportion to the decline in union membership.
This economy will not recover--EVER--without a strong manufacturing base and that will not happen so long as we trade "freely" with countries where workers are paid five cents a day, if at all.
Merit performance and Merit pay take us in exactly the opposite direction from where we need to go. We can deduce, from 200 years of capitalism, what the net result of such policies will be...fewer jobs, lower overall wages for all, less job security for anyone, high turnover rates of employees (more experienced employees will always be let go in favor of newer, cheaper employees), and (by extension) lower "performance" across the board.
For our mythical $17 an hour employee, Merit Pay, as good as it sounds, would not result in a raise to $35 an hour. In all likelihood, Merit Pay would leave our mythical $17 an hour employee without a job entirely.