Sunday, February 20, 2011

Caveat Lectores on Your Bright Future in Public Employment


OK listen up. The Lector is very serious here. No bullshit Ranting from me today.

The rights of public employees are threatened as never before. What is happening in Wisconsin and Ohio and elsewhere is just a starter round of assaults on your rights. The right wing nutjobs and tea baggers are after your right to collectively bargain the terms and conditions of your employment.

I grew up in a small southern textile mill town. My father was a mid-level supervisor in the town’s only industry, textile manufacturing. 70% of the people attached to that town worked in the mill for the man. Literally, everything revolved around the fortunes of that mill. We were generally provided with all the essentials of a comfortable life so long as we were willing to accept what the man unilaterally decided what was essential.

Fortunately, things were going pretty well for the man in the 60’s. My family was not poor in spite of the claims I make about how poor we were. The town was poor however, even though much less poor than many cotton mill towns. It was poor in many ways not revolving around just money.

Unions were never an issue during my formative years because any talk of a union or employee rights would cause immediate termination from employment and banishment from the town. The only game in town for my family was the man’s mill.

Early in my years, I decided that kind of life was not for me even though it seemed safe, secure and comfortable. Upon graduation from high school, the man granted me a college scholarship partly because of my father’s position at the man’s mill and maybe because of my grades and potential. The scholarship was to a lower echelon junior college. My father was not that important at the man’s mill.

Once I left town and began to experience a world not controlled by the man, I saw how really poor I was. I vowed never to return except for family reunions and funerals. Life has been good since I left. As you may have already determined, the town does not miss me. The man’s mill has been torn down after a succession of buyers raped it and foreign imports decimated the industry. The mill’s new owners fought tooth and nail to keep collective bargaining out. A union finally succeeded in forming, but it was too late for the mill and the employees.

My first jobs in the corporate world were largely successful but a real eye opener in how ruthless corporations could be with employees, customers, and anyone who obstructed unfettered profitability. The paternalistic mill seemed mild by comparison. The pay was a lot better but the stakes were much higher and the penalty for lack of blind obedience to the corporate culture very severe if ethical action and job security were a virtue.

I went out on my own and loved it. The rewards were… rewarding, but the economy went south into a recession. I could see my fortunes disappearing and sought another job to support my family. Someone suggested the fire service. Poor pay, long hours at work followed by even longer hours off duty to make enough money to live because the fire service would not provide it. And by the way, after 20-30 years of trying to kill yourself by running into burning buildings, they would let you retire with a pension before you were too old to enjoy the rest of your life. What a deal. I loved my years as a firefighter. Sometimes I question why I ever left, but I did not really leave. I only left the pension behind. My heart is in a firehouse even today.

It was during that time that I learned about public sector union collective bargaining rights. They were just made legal in Florida. My fire department supervisor, originally from Flint, Michigan, encouraged this young and na├»ve rookie firefighter to join the IAFF. When I questioned why I should do this heretofore heretical deed, he said and I quote, “How would you like to go into a burning building knowing your backup hates your guts because you are too cheap to join the union? Now sign the fucking card.” My response was to ask where to sign, and it has been a good ride since.

I found out what it was like to have a say in my work life. Not being a total wage slave produced a good feeling. Yes, I was still dependant on the whim of the public employer but at least I had a seat at the table to discuss the folly of the public employer’s whims.

Now, I practice law after years of working as a firefighter and union supporter. I also teach Labor and Employment Law and Management Ethics at the local and very large university. Truthfully, I do not know exactly why they leave me alone in a room with young minds but they do, and they pay me. Not much money but enough to say I am still a public employee. I love teaching as much as fighting fire and lawyering. I still belong to a union but have no collective bargaining rights and no benefits.

It saddens me past anger to see a misguided citizenry demonizing public employees. The notion that public employees are lazy or over paid is nonsense. It is not new to make light of public service, but the right wing nutjobs and tea baggers have taken it past absurdity. They not only want to destroy government, they want to destroy the lives, careers and futures of the very people who choose to provide the services they demand but do not want to pay for.

Somehow the logic goes like this:

• We are in bad economic times.
• Let’s blame the public employees for the sins of a greedy business and financial world that caused economic meltdown.
• Let’s demonize public employees because they have benefits the private sector lost when we effectively stole their futures.
• Let’s take away their right to be involved in politics and collective bargaining.

That will make everything all better.

The right wingers and tea baggers want to go back to the old days when the Constitution was fresh with signatures of the slave owners who founded this country. No amendments like the Bill of Rights. Just the bare bones raw federal government we had in the 18th century. No regulations to impede corporate profits. No laws that require business and government to bargain over terms of employment. No pensions. No Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid for the elderly and poor. They want to return the government back to the people just like it was in the 1700s.

They are the dupes of the super wealthy who despise the notion that the common working man and woman share in any of the wealth they can steal by operating without rules.

What is going on in Wisconsin and Ohio will soon come to a state capitol near you. BOHICA

Get angry. Make some noise. Identify politicians who want to hurt you and make them know how angry you are. No longer should you just tolerate right wing nut jobs and tea baggers who want to steal from you. Call them out for what they are. Liars and thieves. Vote then out of office. Make them pay for what they are trying to do to you and your family.

And oh yes, have a nice Day?


Caveat Lectores by Jeff Carnes
Read at your own risk.

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