Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jeff Carnes and Caveat Lectores were Silent in July

Caveat Lectores was silent in July. Not because the Lector was on vacation but because I was busy trying to practice labor law and too troubled for adequate words to describe what I see happening to the public sector employee and the public in general.

Make no mistake, my law practice and Lectores Labor Consulting feed off the ill fortune that can grasp public employees around the throat and strangle the life out of them. When I changed from being a firefighter to lawyer, my job did not really change. If a person’s life and property is threatened by peril and destruction, he/she calls the fire department. The fire department comes out and finishes destroying what the fire started by soaking everything down with water. Indeed, the fire could become a conflagration without intervention but nothing positive is added to the process by having the firefighters show up. I only stopped the damage by creating a different kind of damage.

When an employee’s livelihood is threatened, the call goes out to the union, if there is one, or directly to me or another attorney. As with the fire, it is usually too late to completely save the employee from the threat to their livelihood. It is all about mitigation of the damage, if at all. I do not have the magic needed to make the nightmare just go away. There is always some residual damage.

Paying my bills still depends on bad things happening to others. It wears on me sometimes.

Today is the worst of times in my 35 years experience with government work and there is no reason to believe that tomorrow will be better. We can blame the perfect storm we are experiencing on many sources. The economy, tax revolt, George Bush, Barack Obama, poorly skilled public managers, corrupt politicians on all levels, greedy employees. The list goes on and on. While I tend to want to blame politicians with the suffix R trailing their name for most of the problems that afflict me and those I serve, that is way too simple. The Rs are not the only culprits here. All of us got us into this mess.

  • Tax payers are dedicated to getting something for little or nothing. This is not new but something has fed the fire to the point of absurdity.
  • The wealthy are dedicated to making sure they share as little of their wealth with the less fortunate as humanly possible.
  • Those who are on the receiving end of government social service expect more that they can have in today’s world.
  • Politicians do not have the spinal characteristics necessary for telling the truth to the public. I will say it for them. Service whether publicly or privately provided costs money.
  • Public employees did not cause the problems, but they are not doing what is necessary to dig themselves out of the hole they fell in.

Public employees without a union are pretty much powerless and must wait for the axe to drop or get another job.

Unionized employees had better wake up; remove their heads from the sand or must wait for the axe to drop or get another career. At least unionized employees have the additional option. With the help of their union leadership, they can get politically involved and make their voices heard and their votes counted. I am not saying anything new. I am just saying it again. The problem is that it is too late for everyone to be saved. Some will fall from the life raft and drown at least in the figurative sense.

  • Lay offs are here
  • Furloughs are here
  • Pay freezes are here
  • Pay cuts are here or coming
  • Pensions are in peril
  • Benefits will be cut
  • Upward mobility will only be a phrase not a goal.

The only life preserver that will be available is the limited protection of the union and that will not save everyone’s career from peril and destruction.

For those of you who are having a hard time actually grasping this, look at what has already happened in the private sector. Unions have largely been neutered in many industries, pay is stagnant, jobs have disappeared, pensions? …what pensions, employer supplied healthcare diminishes every day you live.

We live in a “global economy” that depends on third world wages to exist. Welcome to reality.

My suggestion is not to spend too much time trying to figure out whom to blame but to figure out how to climb out of the hole. As a labor lawyer, I seldom offer any kind of guarantee, but in this instance I will do so. I will absolutely guarantee you that no lawyer can fix this. We limit the damage. Much like the firefighter I once was, I will do the best I can to stop the damage. Most any firefighter will admit having thought this phrase. “Hey, I did not start the goddam fire; you called me to put it out.”

Lack of effective political involvement on the part of many public sector unions did not cause today’s problems but it does exacerbate a problem caused by someone else. If you do not participate in controlling your world, some one will do it for you. And Oh Yes, Have a nice day.

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