Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I Heart State Workers

In an effort to out-pander Dan Naumovich for the state worker vote in the Illinois Times’ Best Blogger race (is the voting still going on?), I’m here to show my solidarity with Illinois’ government employees. I’ll start by saying I was a state worker for many years (nearly 10). And I’m the son of state workers –both my parents retired from the state. I’m one of you, vote for me!

But seriously, I like most of Dan’s assessment of the state worker (go read his post), but I think he only captures part of the essence of sate workerdom. Yes, the pension is a huge incentive to keep on working what is often a mind-numbingly dull job but I think just having a job with decent (not great, but decent) pay and decent (not great, but decent) benefits keeps a lot of people in their state cubicles. I also don’t think working for the state usually crushes one’s spirit. My mother had the spirit of ten men (women?) but put in over 20 years adjudicating disability claims to bring home a living wage and, yes, secure livable retirement.

I think a lot of people, regardless of who their employer is, see work as a means to an end. That is, they have no deep interest in working at all but know they need to eat and provide a home for themselves and their children. After work, weekends, holidays and vacations are when life is really lived. Work is just the price of enjoying the rest of life. To be honest, I’m a lot like that. I’ve had all kinds of jobs and have enjoyed some more than others, but in the end it’s about the paycheck. I suppose I could, if I was lucky, find some job that dovetailed with my personal interests but I’ve learned that often just results in turning something you enjoy into, well, work.

For what it’s worth, I don’t see the work ethic at the state as being much different than that at many other employers. I worked for a while at a large insurance company in Bloomington (rhymes with Fate Charm) and I can tell you I saw more inefficiency there than I ever saw working for the State of Illinois. I had a discussion about this with a friend some time ago and I think we came to the conclusion that large organizations, be they private or public, are going to wind up with a certain amount of waste and bureaucracy (think phone company, car manufacturer, credit card company, and large retail store).

Did I ever see any stereotypical state workers in my stint with the state? Yeah, sure, especially during my time working in Chicago. The Illinois Department of Employment Security headquarters on State Street was full of them, at least back when I was there a dozen years ago. At the same time, there were many, many dedicated employees there interested only in doing a good job. I worked with both.

Here in Springfield, I would say the quality of worker at the state is even better. I could count on one had the number of deadbeat state workers I ran into. Now, as in any workplace, there are going to be varying degrees of competence. Are there stupid people working for the state? You bet. But I work in the private sector now and I can tell you there is no shortage of dumbasses on this side things.

Finally, consider this: most state jobs are pretty thankless. If a decent wage wasn’t paid, no one would take those jobs and as frustrating as dealing with stat agencies may be now, it would be totally hopeless without the people that know their jobs inside and out. The pension may indeed help keep people working state jobs but I think that’s a good thing. There’s often a huge learning curve in administering public services and the continuity is good.

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