Last night, I attended a meeting about social justice issues. Naturally, the controversy about public worker salaries and unions in Wisconsin came up.
One person commented, “The workers in Wisconsin are not poorly paid.” As if that were a known fact.
We all have preconceived notions about how much certain workers are paid. (When we say “public workers,” we’re often thinking of teachers, firefighters, and police officers. It is important to point out that by the very nature of state and local government, large numbers of the workers are in traditionally low-paying jobs requiring low levels of skill or education.) What do you think is fair pay? Please vote.
Which workers are we talking about? Teachers? Police officers? School maintenance workers? School cafeteria workers? Bus drivers? Road repair crews? Attorneys, engineers, accountants? Public health nurses? Truck drivers? Clerks who process paperwork or answer the phone?
Does a police officer deserve to be paid an adequate living wage? Does a trash collector? Should fair pay be enough for the worker to support himself or herself only? Or should the pay be high enough to also support a child? Two children?
Was answering these questions difficult, impossible, easy? Who should set pay rates? The governor, the private market, the unions, collective bargaining, lottery? Put them all on the ballot for the voters to decide in a referendum?
How much should bloggers be paid? What? Never mind!
- Bill Scher: Top 5: Why Wisconsin Matters to You (huffingtonpost.com)
- Nationwide debate erupts over state workers’ pay, benefits (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Obama Says Gov’t Employees Not to Blame, Yet in 41 States They Make More Than Everyone (chicagonow.com)
I’ve always suspected that when people gripe about what certain workers are paid, they’re unlikely to be thinking about whether they will need that worker’s skills and therefore need someone in the job who is, at the very least, intelligent enough to have his choice of jobs.
Here in Arlington there are people who love to bitch about firefighter pay. The citizenry also seems to call 911 at an incessant clip, often for bullshit issues. The disparity amuses me.
Personally, my very favorite public employees are trash collectors. Public Works people are a close second, you know, the people who check out broken street lamps and, on one harrowing occasion in my experience, bring a generator and pump to clear the way to a snowmelt-flooded clogged stairwell drain.
Try living without those guys.
Right! The trash collectors are among the most indispensable, yet unappreciated workers. And might I add the crews down in those big holes in the street in the freezing cold, day or night, trying to fix a broken water or sewer main.
I would not want to live in a world without trash collectors and public works folks.