Friday, February 26, 2010

A lesson in here somewhere…

Neil Boortz had several links to read; but one of them, an article by Laura Misjak in Flint, Michigan had me shaking my head trying to get a grasp on reality. City will compensate employees for 2 furlough days read the headline.

“The city’s attempt to save nearly $500,000 instead simply gave some employees two extra days off — with pay.”


“…However, the city’s largest employee union challenged the furlough days, claiming they violated its contract.”

Let me get this straight, the city of Flint, Michigan is close to bankruptcy and, in an attempt to stay on top of things, had their employees, who happened to be union employees, take two days off without pay; but because the union didn’t approve a change in their contract which stipulates a minimum 40 hour week the employee union demanded compensation for the two days already missed.

I’ll set the tone; government employees should not have the same “union” protections as private sector unions. I’ll wait a few moments for the shouting to stop before continuing.

Way back, according to my history lessons, workers in factories, mines and other private sector industries were at the mercy of greedy capitalists; dang, this sounds familiar. Workers were forced to accept poverty level wages, work exceptionally long hours in conditions that were dangerous and unacceptable; often to the point of endangering life itself.

Unions were organized to give leverage to employees, an enforceable means of improving the minimum standard of living. If the greedy industrialists were to stay in business they would have to negotiate with unions. There were often times brutal strikes and anti-strike retaliations, general unrest close to all out war which, over the years has led to government involvement to quell civil unrest. I’ve summed up a hundred years of history in one paragraph; might have left out a bit, look up the details if you wish to be enlightened.

There is a slight and yet important difference between employees working in the private sector, often referred to as the free market system, and employees working for a government entity. The task masters over government jobs and their employees are both “We the people” as opposed to some greedy capitalist slave owner in the free market system. Somewhere an important thought is attempting to surface, will it arrive in today’s article is the challenge.

I’ve no problem with public servants, a general term for local, state or federal employees, forming associations, call them unions if it makes you happy, to act as liaisons in order to negotiate better packages for their members, such is not without its merits; however, the right to strike or otherwise “hamstring” operations of their own local, state or federal government by demanding unreasonable compensation, you heard me, unreasonable compensation is unconscionable.

I’m not a lawyer, thank goodness I’ve some decency left in my bones; but somewhere in the clutter of thoughts, lessons of life and other pure crap which I’ve garnered over the years is the notion that public servants, upon deciding to become public servants, have accepted certain hard to grasp realities.

One of those realities is that the job they wish to serve in, while critical to the operation of whatever local, state or federal organization it may happen to be attached, the job is an extension of the generosity of that organization; it is not the same as a job in the private sector, regardless of the similarities, dangers or required skills. The job, in essence, is a reflection of “We the people” and therefore a reflection of the both the employer and the employee; each is dependent on the other for survival.

The purpose of a job in the private sector is to help the greedy capitalist owner/employer increase productivity and profits; businesses are driven by the possibility of making a profit. (Make a note to congress, hiring incentives are really stupid; profits drive hiring. )

Government entities on the other hand are not driven by profits, or at least they should not be oriented in that same mind set. Government entities are established to serve “We the people”. Each job created under this limited purpose is an expense which must be paid for out of the public treasury, an expense to “We the people”.

Unfortunately, and I say this from experience, many government agencies look for opportunities to increase their spending abilities as if they were a private sector industry intent on achieving profit margins far greater than their current or foreseeable expenses in order to facilitate expanding services and entitlement programs.

As an example, city governments depend on “extra” income from traffic tickets issued through their police departments; including such “forecasted” revenue in their budgets. The same is done through other increased “fees” for service, fees which incrementally are altered upwards to accommodate foreseeable budgetary needs, short falls and other fiscal needs.

When our national economy was blossoming forecasting of budgets could be depended upon to cover basic services and entitlement programs; however, such is not the case at present. Shortfalls have hit across the board in most local, state and federal budgets due to extreme changes in revenue sources; a long way of saying unemployed people can’t be taxed, foreclosed on properties which had been counted as dependable sources for the purposes of taxation left unexpected holes at every level of government and the agencies which serve “We the people”.

Rather than cut back on entitlement programs some are cutting back on basic services. I read recently of at least one city in California considering a fee for each time 9-1-1 emergency calls are made. My purpose for mentioning unconscionable fees such as charging someone who needs a public servant in an emergency has to do with just that, the idea that some things are unconscionable.

Holding your fellow citizens up, you could call it highway robbery; you get the idea, when they are crying out for help is unconscionable. It’s like the bad joke about the state trooper who, upon finding a fellow upside down in a terrible car wreck with his arm hanging out the window, blood dripping from his finger tips asks, “I see you’re in a bad way, nice watch; how much is it worth to you?”

How much different is it for an employed public servant to demand full pay from his fellow citizens in these extreme economic times; remember that part about “We the people” being both employer and employee? Is it unreasonable to expect everyone to adjust accordingly or should the City of Flint, Michigan file for bankruptcy as a means of getting out of an unreasonable contract with union employees? I’d go a step beyond unreasonable and call it unconscionable, “I see you’re in a bad way, how much you want for that watch?”


MK said...

The other day i read about a bus driver in Wisconsin earning $160K a year, apparently he's the highest paid person in that sector of the government.

Something is not right in a state where a bus driver is getting paid more than a doctor from what i can tell.

The lesson in there somewhere is that if public servants are paid like this, the state will soon go broke and everyone including the public servants will be out on their ass.

T. F. Stern said...

MK, I heard about that too. Many public service jobs pay very well to begin with; add to that time and a half for overtime along with bonus incentives ( yes, some places have those on top of that ) and a considerable amount is up for grabs.

The down side is that the public treasury gets drained; like you said, everyone including the public servants will be out on their asses.

The probligo said...

Yeah, in Madison.

Seems that the employment conditions gave longest serving (and hence highest paid) drivers first right to work overtime. What I have seen that has been changed already by the city administration. There is comment that there were several, not just one, in the six digit bracket.

Seems too that the guy was working a consistent 80 hour week, and that must raise major safety concerns.

How many hours you work per week TF?

T. F. Stern said...

Probligo, Most civil servants are regulated by a maximum number of hours worked rule. The rules which are created are to limit the chance of employees being unable to safely carry out their tasks; however, because of litigation, these rules are primarily put into use to protect the municipal, state or federal agency from law suits stemming from an employee who, while exhausted, damages property or injures another.

As for me, or my history of hours worked, not an issue anymore. I retired from the police dept. so many years ago it feels like a life time ago. I now work very few actual hours, my rate of pay is based on job performance, not an hourly wage. I charge a set fee for a particular job and the value of that job is determined by the free market system.

I wish I could work a 40 hour week every week; I be swimming in money.

The probligo said...

Perhaps I can just add one of the links I used or perhaps something just a bit closer to the action would help.

What might be happening if the bus services in Madison were unreliable and inefficient? How might they get that way? Because of absenteeism, duty restrictions (but see my earlier comment unless you forgot), limits on overtime, all of that hooha.

T. F. Stern said...

One factor which wasn't mentioned, a major issue which makes overtime a viable means of covering slots on a roster is that it is cheaper in the long run to pay time and a half. The alternative is to hire additional employees which means higher costs because of health care packages and eventually retirement packages. Many municipal agencies would rather pay time and a half; but when the spot light goes on to how much was paid to top earners, as in the Wisconsin bus driver story, they would rather blame greedy bus drivers than own up to their own failure to supply needed increases in general employment.

The Houston Police Department is guilty of the same set up, taking all sorts of federal money for special projects in order to keep from hiring. This could go on for a long essay; enough...

The probligo said...

Hey! TF, it looks like yesterday really was some kind of red letter!!

We agreed twice in the same day! How bout THAT!

But don't send the missionaries just yet.