Thursday, March 3, 2011

Just a Little Respect

Earlier today, and for most of this week, I've been really fired up about some things, so while this post may go down in the annals as the reason why one doesn't drink wine and blog, I am still compelled to this has been one heckuva week.

I am the daughter of two public sector employees (a teacher and a nurse), both are retired now, but they did not retire early, nor did they retire to riches. They live a comfortable life after careers of taking care of others, but they are by no means wealthy and living the high life.

It hurts when I hear some say that because of collective bargaining, they were able to retire with excessive benefits and have now become a burden on society. I get angry because my parents, while comfortable, are not living off the fat o'the land. They do not cruise the Bahamas, or go on annual vacations to Europe, or have a home in the mountains and another at the beach. They live moderate lives that they have earned. They worry CONSTANTLY about the cost of health care and in some cases fear that they are just a few steps away from being a financial burden on their children.

I am a public sector employee, a school teacher, as are most of my friends, and I have been for almost all of my adult life. I do not have a "part time job" as a public school teacher, and while I earn enough to make a comfortable and reasonable living, I am by no means wealthy. And let me add, that even though I am a community college instructor, this is, by no means, a part time job.  Most of my teacher friends are sitting at home tonight grading papers and planning lessons for tomorrow, even though their official work day ended several hours ago.

I understand that unions have problems. In fact, I have not always belonged to a teacher's union, and only do right now due to local issues (and by local issues, I mean issues related to the college where I teach and where I teach only). There have been lots of times in my life where I did not agree with the union line, with union politicking, with the policies of unions to protect their membership at all costs which inevitably leads to the union defending some pretty indefensible teaching. I would be among the first to admit that there are people in my profession who shouldn't be. They embarrass me. I wish they would quit.

However, that there are some weak teachers does not mean that all teachers are weak. In fact, the vast majority are quite good, working in deplorable conditions, with meager supplies, who make due in order to teach kids. None of us feel overpaid.

However, it angers me when I hear some sectors of the media say because am a teacher, and because of teacher unions, I am a burden on society due to the "unreasonable salary with health care benefits" that I earn. My salary, some claim, outweighs the value of my work. It hurts when I hear some political pundits decry teachers because we have "part time jobs," and because "those who can, do; and those who can't teach." Teacher unions have their faults, but I would defend an individual's right to join a union 'til the end.

But it's not just about me this week.

I have students who rely on financial aid. Let me tell you about Ricky. Ricky has severe cerebral palsy...think Stephen Hawking type cerebral palsy. He is in a wheel chair. He cannot walk. He can barely talk. He relies on an aide in the classroom who takes notes for him. Then he goes home, has a friend scan his notes into a computer so that he can read them in large print because he also has a vision impairment. He has a paper due next week. I know he started it this weekend because it will take him 10 hours to type a paper that will take my other students 2 hours (at the most) to do. However, what I know now is that Ricky is super smart, but he needs help. He really needs someone to help him to write the essays that he has in in head, but that he cannot physically write himself. My tax dollars help Ricky, and people like him. I trust that someday Ricky (and other students like him) will do great things, but I also know that Ricky may not get the chance to do the things he is capable of because budget cuts will stop paying for his aide, as well as for other assistive devices he needs to use. Ricky is not a burden to society. He is a gift. He works harder to learn than most of us have ever had to. I wish all my students had the motivation that Ricky has.

It pains me that if state budget cuts to disabled students continues, Ricky won't be able to finish his education.

I could go on and on about the vets who are in my class who need services that they aren't getting, about the number of classes being cut at all levels, about the teachers being laid off, about libraries closing. I have friends who are cops, who literally risk their lives, trying to keep mine safe, even though their budgets are being cut. I have friends who are fire-fighters who save our houses and our communities from danger. I have friends who are lifeguards, and trust me, their daily lives are NOT like an episode of Bay Watch. 

I get what the other side is saying...we need budgets, we spend too much on some things. I know how nobody wants to pay more taxes. I get it all...all I'm saying is that in this time of pain for all, it's really important to not minimize the important work that public employees do...for the public. The vast majority of us are the middle class. We are not burdens on society. We are not wealthy. Most of us are just getting by, trying to raise our families, and in fact, most public employees are more than willing to take furlough days, pay cuts, do what we have to do, need to do to sacrifice for the greater good.

We'd all just like a little respect is all.


  1. From the other side of the Atlantic all I can say is we are in a very similar position here and amen. Public employees make a massive contribution - a hugely necessary one - to our society and while the need for budget cuts and reducing wastage is obvious, this should not come at the cost of what you do. And it should not hit the Ricky's of this world - we need to look after them.

  2. O, for god's sake! I just wrote a eleventy-billion-word comment saying, essentially, "AMEN!" and your stupid blog eated it, sister.

    Maybe I'll come back later and try again.

    Man, I was really frothing at the mouth by the time I got to the end of it!

    Watch ... this meaningless comment will go through with no problem I bet!

  3. Yep. Right through. No problem.


    (Or should I say "GAH!"?)

  4. I totally agree! My husband is a school teacher and they are cutting the budget by 4% again this year..and talk of freezing pay for a few years are in the works. I'm glad people are willing to work in the government even with all the problems and cuts that are going on.

  5. Alice, this is HUGE! BUILDING the community by helping out those who deserve it should be our priority. I just don't know WHAT is happening. I respect and LOVE your passion. Where can you take this next??!!

  6. As a connoisseur of fine rants I say Yes! Great rant! GREAT! I will post a link to it on FB and my blog.

  7. It's mind boggling. When will education become a priority again?

  8. I just gotta believe that there are other areas that can be cut to prop up the education budgets.

  9. Thanks for representing Alice!

    I'm just anti-news stations right now. It's 10:10pm and I just got home 28 minutes ago - I, too, hope things get better soon.

  10. Well this will certainly fuel my next run. My daughter is two months away from being credentialed to teach. My other daughter is dedicating her life to help kids like Ricky who will never have a strong enough voice to be heard above all the noise in political circles. My own industry just got the ax - and from the committee that promised to save the elderly poor.

    Politicians are very short-sighted because they only have to make it to the next election cycle. I'm warmed by what's spreading beyond Wisconsin ... unions are about preserving the middle class, not just protecting generous benefits no longer enjoyed by the private sector. It says something about the people in charge that teachers and nurses are being vilified while the men and women who almost brought down our entire financial system continue to be rewarded.

    OK, rant over. Run starting. Keep drinking and blogging, C!

  11. I had commented over at GP's blog about how our education budget got voted down last fiscal year. Our retirees came out in droves to vote it down, not realizing the short-sightedness of screwing those who could ensure that our youth would be able to make intelligent decisions in the future. GP is right - we ALL have a vested interest in education, lest we raise a generation of disenfranchised uninterested youth who would make dumbass decisions on our behalf.

    That being said, our retirees are on a fixed income, & often have to choose very carefully where those limited funds will go towards. Being able to afford their medications next year because property taxes stay where they are?

    Sad thing is, property taxes went up regardless, & our education budget was still screwed.

  12. My mom is a teacher and I was a teacher in my previous, childless life. My dad is now retired, but was a nurse before he retired. I know my mom and dad have put away so much for retirement, out of their own meager paychecks.

    I have seen the other side of it, however, I have seen the other side of it---for state employees:

    My uncle was a prison guard for the fine state of California and retired with 125% of salary and retained his benefits for life. My uncle never contributed to his retirement.

    When my friend's mom died, she and her sister now receive $3000 a month TAXFREE, for the rest of their lives, paid for by the grand state of California, although she did not pay into retirement. She worked for a state mental institution, as a nurse.

    My husband's aunt retired from the state and now receives 125% of salary and full benefits for life. (My husband I think she might also get free internet too. She worked in Sacramento. That cannot be confirmed.)

    These examples are where things need to be adjusted in our broken retirement system, in my opinion. 125% of salary? Paying the CHILDREN benefits for the rest of their life? Only state workers get those perks.

    On the other hand, when I was teaching, my insurance was FAR AND AWAY better than my husband's insurance and he WORKS FOR a hospital. The public sector does have far better insurance benefits than the public sector does and I don't think that's fair. Private sector benefits should be somewhat of a ruler to gauge the benefits. There shouldn't be such a big discrepancy. We have all had to tighten our belts and I think we are going to have to make some compromises----public and private. It's going to be painful!

  13. So let's see here. When I graduated from college, I didn't take a DWP job because the pay was about $10K per year less than my job in the private sector, and raises were much lower. Seems like I have nothing to complain about. Is everyone else listening? All the folks out there who passed on govt jobs because they paid less or weren't the high profile jobs? Glad they all became independently wealthy CEOs.

    See? You got me started...

  14. Good on ya' -- I couldn't agree more. I'm doing a paper right now on corporate excesses and it has made me see the union backlash in a whole different light. We seem to have no problem with our corporate execs making so much money they don't even know what to do with it. They do so on the backs of the poor, the third world and the environment. They cheat on taxes and engage in unfair practices. And yet, we hate to see our fellow citizens, civil servants, earning a decent wage. Something's wrong with this picture.

    Oops, I think this rant thing is catching. :-)