Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Workers State

Lots of folks have little use for state workers, but many of them do jobs that most of us wouldn’t touch, like working in a prison or a facility for the criminally insane or caring for aging veterans. A flood of early retirements at the start of the Blagojevich administration has meant more work for fewer people, so mandatory overtime is taking a toll.

I’ve found over the years that the knee-jerk reaction that all state workers are lazy and overpaid is often just misplaced jealousy, or ideologically motivated, or ill-informed cynicism. My uncle, for instance, worked for the state until he took advantage of the early out plan, and I’m here to tell you that the man worked hard just about every day of his career. My mother at one time was a social worker at a
facility for the criminally insane. Not a great job.

I also have a tough time with this “race to the bottom mentality” out there. To some, we should just cut their pay, cut their benefits and slash payroll ever deeper, to mirror some real or imagined private sector trend. They say this as if it’s supposed to be a good thing, but how is making the lot of working people worse off a good thing?

“But they’re sucking off my taxes!” is often the reply. Well, we have one of the lowest state income tax rates in the country. State sales taxes aren’t hugely out of line. And state payroll per capita is by far the lowest in the nation.
Amen, brother Rich.

And that’s another shitty thing about Springfield. The state provides tons of jobs here, hugely pumping up the economy and providing employment for gobs of Springfieldians, yet all we hear from non-state workers here is how lazy and undeserving the state employees are, blah, blah, blah. Hey assholes, you try it. I put in nearly 10 years with the State and it wasn’t easy work. My current private sector job is much easier and I get paid more. Both my parents put time in at the state and neither of them was anything close to lazy. So suck on it you misinformed Springfield ingrates.

Truthfully, I haven’t found much difference in the quality of workers for the state and those in the private sector. In fact, it was at a large private sector employer where I found the most waste and idle workers of any place I’ve ever worked. And yes, that employer is still in business and making money. many of you are probably do business with them on a regular (usually semi-annual) basis.

I think the State does fall down a bit (in some cases a lot) with middle management because only really unqualified people are dumb enough to take the thankless positions. But to some extent that’s true everywhere.

So the next time someone you’re with starts in on state workers, give them a big but inoffensive eye-roll.


weird little sister said...

Hey Dave,
Great post. I am so glad that you mentioned employees at the local institutions. As a volunteer librarian at our county jails in Chambana, I often wonder how any employee works in that environment day in and day out. Even if the interaction with the prisoners was without tension, the atmosphere is unbelievably depressing. It is my hope that programs like books to prisoners, the library and writing programs is the kind of good thing that educates and motivates the inmates, while at the same time improves the environment for the staff. But working behind locked doors with no windows is a tough place to be on the best day.

Bravo for calling this one out!


jason said...

i'm a low ranking state worker, and i have to deal directly with the public. the state worker hate isn't confined to springfield. budget cuts have meant that we have a hard time finding money for things people used to take for granted, or we have to raise fees, or things are done later than usual, and callers from all over the state hold me personally responsible day in and day out. (well, what they usually say is "you people...", but i'm the one they're yelling at).

Bookworm said...

I work for the state but am not union. Prior to that I worked in the private sector for 20 years.
I suspect that a lot of the state worker bashing you see in Springfield is people being jealous of the pay and benefits offered by the major employer in the area.
The loss of industrial employers like Fiat-Allis, Pillsbury, Sangamo Electric, etc. magnifies the situation. I've only lived here for 3 years but based on what longer-term residents tell me and what I've read, it seems that Springfield was once more of a blue-collar town than it is today, and some people can't get over that.
When I lived in the Peoria area, I would occasionally hear people complain about Caterpillar workers being "greedy" and thinking they were better than everyone else, yada, yada. It was not as frequent as state worker bashing but it did happen. The only difference was that Peorians didn't complain about Cat workers "feeding off the taxpayers," at least not directly.
However, large private employers like Cat and OSF in Peoria, State Farm in Bloomington, John Deere in Moline, etc. get many concessions from state and local government on things like property taxes and zoning -- not to mention places like Wal-Mart getting tax breaks from TIFs and other means. So it's not as if state employees are the only ones who ever feed off the government you-know-what!

JLo said...

I don't think this stigma is something exclusive to Springfield or Illinois. No matter where you go, there is a reputation, like it or not, attached to state workers. Not saying it's right, but it exists. It's unfair to say Springfieldians or Illinoisians are alone in this whiny-ness.

And while I have met incredibly hard working state workers while I worked within several state agencies (as a contractor), I also saw the malaise and grifting people seem to talk about.

The thing is, the reputation is there, it's probably never going to go away. And just as is with any stereotype, there are always exceptions to the rule.

I do find it interesting that there are private sector people who typically make that transition to a state or federal job at some point, or at least they really want to. I also met a fair number of people who left the state arena for the private sector. I wonder what motivates these transitions? Can it simply be jealousy? Or is it the belief the grass is greener?

Blevins said...

good post dave, but still not a fan of state workers from my days as a temp and watching state workers at DCFS downtown be able to take breaks whenever, do no work and even sleep whilst if a temp dared to even take yawn we were given a nice lecture and told how easy we could be replaced.