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Working People Speak Out on Attacks on Public Employees

By Melissa Chadburn
Alternet
February 12, 2012

California is really something to watch. With its braggers. It’s a state of contradictions. Its history of gallant actor governors.  Actors, that lived on in their constituents' minds and hearts as cowboys and avengers.  The whole while telling us ‘California! Come to California!’ With its six million residents that had incomes below the federal poverty line.  California, where one in five residents lacked health insurance in 2010.  California, whose Preamble to its constitution states “ We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, …” (Which of course does not apply to the 1,404,053 persons under the jurisdiction of state prison authorities, across the state of California.)

One thing California might have gotten a clue about is furloughs for public workers. Furloughs are basically forced days off. Imagine this:  It’s a bright Friday morning. Payday. You make plans with some friends to hang after work. Grab your coffee. Your breakfast bar.  And you go to work. The boss says the company is having some financial problems and he can no longer afford you every other Friday.

That’s not too bad, you think. Free day for you. Do some laundry.  Buy some cat litter.  Grocery shopping.  Errands are always better during the week. Until your check comes.  WHOA Waitasecond.

That’s exactly what happened in California. State workers were forced to sacrifice every other paid Friday of work to help balance the state budget. The state workers furlough officially ended October 2010 but now we are still suffering from a $26 billion deficit. Local governments are now considering furloughs as a solution. Some of my coworkers are even forced to take their children to work because the schools are closed down every other Friday.

Didn’t we learn our lesson? There’s this strange rationale swooping around that if funding were reallocated and controlled by local government that would solve the problem.  I’m no economist but a redistribution of a $26 billion deficit still equates to a $26 billion deficit, doesn’t it?

I recently caught up with a couple of state workers to ask them what they thought about the furloughs and their effect on the economy.

Wendy Parker A.K.A. Pepper:

I worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles. I remember feeling I made my parents proud when I first got the job almost 10 years ago.  I know it was a means to an end.  I would never be where I am now if it wasn't for being a state employee.

It was a very low paid job. I brought home $1700 a month during the furloughs, after taxes. We got paid only once a month. I wish I was living paycheck to paycheck.  I was living 2/3rds of the way to the next paycheck is more like it.

I feed 5 mouths besides mine. My partner who is not able to work as she has a very rare disease called Huntington's disease. She gets a small monthly bill that basically covers the cost of her medication. We have her live-in home health care worker, who also is my dogs’ nanny as I travel all over California for my job. He only makes $400 a month taking care of her, so I get to buy his food, pay his bills and give him a place to live.  Then I have my three dogs, who are like children to me.

There should have been a more "fair" way to do them. Perhaps everyone in the State of California could have given up 5% instead of a few of us giving up 15%.  I certainly prefer furloughs to layoffs.  But, we are now suffering that as well.  I wish I knew our money helped the state. Seems like it was all in vain.  Some departments were forced to work overtime to make up for the loss of work by fellow furloughed employees. Our department actually closed down. Which is totally strange that it would be on a Friday.  When we get paid at the DMV, and I'm guessing all State Agencies are the same, we have to wait until 3pm on payday, so the state can collect an extra day of interest.  Strange idea on how to save money for the state.

Lynn Therese Vilain

I am a Senior Tax Compliance Representative for Employment Development Department. I collect taxes withheld from employee’s paychecks (SDI and State Income Tax) and Unemployment Insurance that employers pay. I contact businesses to resolve accounts, negotiate installment agreements, issue bank and A/R levies, earning withholding orders for taxes. I make adjustments to accounts. I also conduct investigations and assess corporate officers personally for corporate liabilities. As a lead I review and approve the work of co-workers.  I provide assistance to fellow co-workers.  I also provide training for new staff.

I have worked for my department for 22 years, except for 6 months when I worked at Board of Equalization. I love helping people. I love when I am able to pass my knowledge on to new staff or when I am able to resolve an issue for an employer. I am a big believer in customer service and was nominated this year by my manager for providing outstanding customer service.

We were furloughed three days per month. Then we negotiated one day per month for 1 year. I cut my landline. I still have cable but cut back many of the stations. I cut my cable Internet and have a USB modem through my cell phone carrier.  I had built up a small savings but I went through it all. They didn't save any money.  We were working on Saturday at UI during the furloughs because unemployment was so high. UI was working overtime the whole time because they had such a backlog. We were on directed furloughs, but we were working on Fridays preparing for our new computer system. Because we couldn't do our regular work on those days we got backlogged. We are federally funded so furloughing us doesn't save any money.  We are also revenue producing so closing us down generates less revenue for the state.

My biggest issue with the furloughs was that they weren't being negotiated. We agreed to personal leave programs in the past and as I've noted we agreed to it again. But the whole way they were done this time was very demoralizing.  At the same time we kept hearing from the governor's office that our production was supposed to stay the same.  When you lose three days per month that isn't possible.

I am proud to be a state employee and I feel angered by all of the attacks on public employees. Most state employees that I know are hard workers. We go in and do an honest day's work.  Many of us actually put in more than 40 hours per week and don't get paid for it.  But all the public sees are "lazy" employees. There are some of those but they are the minority. We don't establish the policies and procedures and often have no input even when we see ways to improve things. Also people forget that we are citizens and taxpayers, too.

Every time there is a budget crisis people start attacking public employees. There is a call to cut our salaries, pensions, benefits, etc.  I am not opposed to us sacrificing during tough times, but most of us took a salary cut to work for the state. I took a salary cut of a couple of hundred dollars a month to work for the state. I did that for the security of health benefits and pension because I worked for two companies that went out of business.  We got holidays, pension benefits, etc. in place of raises in some years.

When you compare public sector employees to private sector most of us make less than private sector.  But we accept that for the security. It's no longer a secure place to work.

After studying law Melissa Chadburn obtained an MFA from Antioch University. She is a lover and a fighter, a union rep, a social arsonist, a writer, a lesbian, of color, smart, edgy and fun. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in Guernica, PANK Magazine, WordRiot, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Splinter Generation, Northville Review and elsewhere. She loves pit bulls and cheese. Reach her at fictiongrrrl(at) gmail.com or follow her on twitter @melissachadburn. She loves your whole outfit right now.
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