Back in the day, before public sector employees were so much fodder, those in the know understood that we were vital to the operation of government. Public employees were viewed as assets to state governments and providers of quality services to consumers. That unfortunately is no longer the case. The servants of so many have become the scapegoats of politicians that want to be re-elected and of failing state economies that steal from the poor so that the rich won’t have increased tax burdens!
Public employees generate revenue for state economies and as consumers we help local municipalities to thrive. At one point in the remote past, public sector employees received generous pay and cost of living increases that kept us at par with private sector employees and guaranteed that vital services to consumers were consistently provided. In addition to good pay and benefits, many of us were the recipients of service awards by our respective agencies, as tokens of acknowledgment for our service to the public.
I received this padfolio, some years ago, from my employer the Disability Determination Service of Michigan, as a service award. It didn’t get much use in my paperless work environment but now I use it every day in my current profession as an advocate. The message on the front cover serves as a personal reminder of my past efforts as a civil servant and my ongoing dedication to service. This award and the others that I received over the years, mean a lot more to me now than they did when I received them because I no longer have to deal with the petty aggravations – coming mainly from unhappy managers with dysfunctional personal lives – thrust upon me in the workplace each day. At this point in time, I’m better able to focus on the positive aspects of my time as a state employee. I can view my years of “service” in a perspective that was not possible in the past. I understand now that I was blessed by having what what was once considered a “good job” and I was fortunate enough to leave state service before the national demonization of public employees began.
I had the television on as I was working a few days ago. There was a news report that the State Police post at Cadillac Place, in midtown Detroit, was evacuated because of a bomb threat. The work day of almost 5000 people has been disrupted 2 or 3 times in the past two years because of some miscreants’ need for attention.
When I worked at Cadillac Place and we had to evacuate the building because of some potential threat, the Detroit Fire Department had to come to the scene. Emergency Medical Service personnel had to be on hand because some people had to literally be carried out of the building because of physical limitations. A few employees were unable to return to work because of the physical trauma they sustained as they rushed down stairs to exit the building. A bomb threat demands that an overworked Detroit Police Department Bomb Squad be on the scene, and possibly risk their lives to diffuse situations. The jerks that plant fake bombs and pull fire alarms when there is no emergency are the same fools that complain about wasteful government spending. It never occurs to them that hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted when they pull those pranks and more importantly lives are put at risk because of the dangerous scenarios they create.
This past month, the nation has experienced record high temperatures of 95 degrees or more. The men and women of the Police and Fire Departments have to put on 35 or 40 pounds of gear in 100 degree heat and face potential injury or death because of fools that have petty grudges against some branch of government! It’s hard for employees to feel appreciated when duties are performed out of dedication to service and for the public good only to have to deal with threats real or implied while at work and then go home at night and see politicians on television taking ideological stands that impact on our abilities to work effectively.
The governor of Michigan and the gangsters that control the House and Senate passed a bill last March that effectively allows Marshall Law to be established in any municipality that is taken over by an Emergency Financial Manager. Contracts negotiated between labor organizations and employers can be nullified by Emergency Financial Managers. Public employees are under assault.
When I was part of the “system” I understood that I had a significant role in the management of the state of Michigan. The jobs that I performed impacted on consumers from every part of the state and in some cases on people in other parts of the world. I know that many others understand intellectually how their roles as public servants impact the lives of others. It hurts to watch politicians get in front of television cameras and state that public employees are essentially a waste of good money! Many of us in the know understand that politicians have motives for making such claims. They may have a business relationship with someone who would like to have a lucrative state contract or a politician may have taken large amounts of money from someone in order to be elected or to remain in office or they may come from a part of the state that believes that the wrong type of people are employed in state government!
Downsizing state government has never produced the results that politicians envisioned when the proposals to make those cuts were put on the table. I worked for the Michigan Department of Public Mental Health when the Blanchard Administration (NOT THE ENGLER GANG!) decided to close facilities that housed mentally ill and developmentally challenged consumers. The sentiment in the early eighties was that it would be easier to funnel money to county Community Mental Health Agencies to care for consumers instead of paying the salaries of thousands of state employees who managed or provided direct care to consumers. The plan looked like a good idea but never came to fruition.
I was with a former Lafayette Clinic employee, watching the news, the day the last consumers were forcibly removed from that facility. My friend cried like a baby, as we watched the police struggling with mentally ill consumers literally being thrown onto the street! That was 20 years ago. Since that time, the funding that was supposed to go directly to county agencies has been budgeted out of existence. There is no Michigan Department of Public Mental Health. There is no comprehensive program for mentally challenged individuals in Michigan any longer. There are no publicly funded mental health facilities where an acutely mental ill individual can be taken for a short respite. Now the police are called when someone is having a momentary crisis and that person is taken to jail. A few days later that consumer is back at home creating problems for his or her family or on a street corner entertaining commuters or standing in front of a building harassing passersby for spare change! The vision of the Blanchard Administration for community control of mental health services never materialized. The families of mentally ill or developmentally challenged consumers have very limited options these days.
The state of Michigan once had an international reputation for its care of developmentally and mentally challenged consumers. When I worked in one of those “restrictive” institutions, I personally witness consumers receiving loving compassionate care. The support that state employees provided as direct care providers, social workers, case managers, psychologist, psychiatrist, physicians, dentist, pharmacist, ophthalmologist, radiologists, speech therapist, dietitians, physical therapist NO LONGER EXIST! The utopian dream of a less restrictive community based service delivery system is accessible to those whose families can afford to pay out-of-pocket for such services. When most consumers end up in the hands of overburdened police departments you and I pay for their mismanagement!
The Engler Administration brought charter schools to Detroit in an effort to raise standardized test scores among students. Almost 20 years later, the public education system is worse off than it was in the early nineties! Charter schools have failed to better educate the children of metropolitan Detroit. Public school teachers, administrators and other personnel have been forced out of a system that once flourished. Politicians promised that the system would be reformed and that students would become highly literate, ready for enrollment in colleges and be able to compete in the job market. The reality of that late nineties charter school scheme in the early 21st century is: Detroit residents per capita have literacy problems that rival those in underdeveloped countries. Many charter schools that opened in the mid nineties have closed because of loss of population, lack of funding and in some cases due to corrupt practices uncovered by the media or watch dog groups. Privately managed charter schools have not produced the new intelligentsia! Who then will lead the country in the future?
The current gang of thugs in Lansing plan to eliminate much of civil service as we know it today. The plan is doomed for failure. Contracted services, over the past 20 years have failed to replace the quality services that public employees provided at some point in the past.
I remain active in the state’s largest employee union. Existing state employees are over burdened by expanding case loads. Employees work more and are paid less. In the past decade, my union, the UAW has made 400 million dollars in concessions to the state employer only to be told that what we have sacrificed is not enough. Back in the day, we unionist were always on the look out for attempts by employers at eroding our bargaining units. States like California and Wisconsin declared financial emergencies and effectively stripped their unionized employees of all of the rights they had negotiated in good faith. Michigan’s new Public Act 4 of 2011 makes that possible in any municipality or school district in which it is enacted.
As a child, my parents worked tirelessly to make sure that my brothers and I thrive in an environment free of the “isms” that ruined the lives of many people of color in this country. They faithfully served our familial interest for our collective good. When I went away to college, a man whom I respect a great deal informed my freshman class at Michigan State University that we had an obligation after we obtained our educations to make a contribution – to be about service to the community. I knew at age 18 that I had a bill to pay forward.
Throughout my early life, I learned the value of service. In my adult life, I have been able to keep that commitment through my work in the community. I remain committed to service each day as do many many others in every community in this great country. I only wish that all elected officials had that same committment to the electorate as they promised when they were vying for office.