As part of its examination of Issue 2, the Columbus Dispatch published an article yesterday enumerating several perks enjoyed by public sector workers as a result of collective bargaining negotiations that are not generally available to those in the private sector. Examples included a paid day off for election day, having a say in the temperature of a classroom, a $160 bonus for perfect attendance and “longevity” pay increases based on years of service.

The article failed to tell the other side. The private sector offers an incredibly long list of benefits public sector workers can only dream about.

I know this from personal experience. Before working for City and State governments, I spent almost ten years, first as a web developer, and later as a project manager and research analyst at several internet and software companies. In the private sector, I was not in a labor union, and with the exception of my very first position, was always an “exempt” employee not able to collect overtime pay.

As a service to those who may never have worked in the private sector, here is a look at things on the other side of the fence.

Benefits I experienced first-hand in the private sector

  • employer 401(k) matching contributions
  • 6.2% employer contribution to social security (many public workers get a pension in lieu of social security benefits)
  • employee stock options
  • employee stock purchase plan (stocks purchased through payroll deductions at a guaranteed discount to the price paid by average investors)
  • signing bonuses for new hires
  • referral bonuses for employees who refer a friend who is then hired
  • annual and quarterly bonuses based on individual and company performance goals
  • domestic partner benefits (for straight and gay couples)
  • paid paternity leave
  • paid adoption leave
  • corporate credit card
  • on-site gym and/or gym membership discounts
  • Lake Tahoe ski cabin (I’m not kidding. You had to pay to get there, but the lodging was free if you reserved the dates)
  • employee game room (pool table, foosball, ping pong, air hockey, pinball, xbox, etc)
  • unlimited free coffee, hot chocolate, candy and soda
  • free breakfasts, lunches and/or subsidized corporate cafeteria
  • bagel friday, birthday parties and staff happy hour (all free)
  • take-home laptops, smartphones and employer-paid cell phone plans
  • business class flights (for management employees and/or flights longer than 6 hours)
  • airline lounge memberships (no waiting with the riff-raff at the gate)
  • accumulated airline miles resulting from work-related travel
  • on-site daycare
  • free parking
  • magazine subscriptions and dues to professional membership organizations
  • paid trips to industry conferences
  • employee retreats and sales annual meetings at luxury resorts
  • free professional development, including online training and/or continuing education courses; some employees received assistance when attending MBA programs

Perhaps lesser benefits that I am grateful to have enjoyed, in retrospect, that aren’t available in the public sector:

  • taking a taxi, and not public transportation, to a meeting across town
  • making a purchase online or when traveling without prior approval and being able to submit a receipt for reimbursement
  • filling up a car at any gas station and submitting a receipt instead of carrying around a gas card and searching for an “authorized” gas station

Never mind the fact that my private sector salary and bonuses added up to about 40% more take-home pay than my best year in the public sector. Most public workers give up these benefits and perks willingly to have a hand in implementing important programs and serving the public. But to say that the ability to have a warm classroom or get $160 for never missing a day of work is somehow superior to the benefits enjoyed in the private sector is laughable if you’ve experienced both.

[UPDATE ] I noted in the comments, but will add a word here –  this is obviously not meant to describe the average corporate job, and no single employer offers all of the above. It’s simply a compilation of perks I received at a number of jobs, or saw working at other private sector clients (the Merrill Lynch cafeteria in the World Financial Center kicks ass and is dirt cheap).

But I’m also willing to bet most public employees don’t get to dictate the temperature in their office as a provision of their employment, so that was side cherry-picked as well. In any case, it hardly seems fair to pick a few luxurious benefits available to public workers without talking about examples like the Tahoe ski cabin and the annual meeting in Scottsdale as the counterpoint.

I’m curious – those of you who have worked on both sides of the fence – how did the pay and perks compare in your experience?