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Government workers don't deserve derision


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POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

First, let's come clean here.

Many of my friends, casual acquaintances, relatives and high school classmates work or have worked for the city, counties and the state governments.

They are teachers, accountants, technicians, groundskeepers, draftsmen, counselors and general paper pushers. They work in offices and classrooms, in parks and forests, on college campuses and out on the road.

They have families, some large, others just a couple of kids. Still others are single or divorced. They live in tight-spaced condos, rental apartments or single-family homes with grandma and grandpa upstairs or in the ohana cottage out back.

Some have master's degrees, smarts documented on paper. Some have high-school diplomas, but organizational abilities good enough to have set up computerized tax map keys. Many work diligently and likely just as many wade through the day lethargically. They are, in other words, like most other people on the job.

As public employees, however, they are the objects of disaffection, targets for righteously or unjustifiably indignant taxpayers. Above all, they are pawns in the no-holds-barred power bouts between the governor and lawmakers.

But if there is anybody out there who would pity them, please don't. They're used to it. They are a resilient bunch whose labor union leaders also use them in a weird relationship of sustainment for themselves and their legislative patrons. How they will fare in contract negotiations isn't clear, but indications are they will have to pay hundreds more a month for medical coverage and give up some benefits, if not several weeks of pay through the next two years.

Public workers have always been targets, but in this go-round, bad-mouthing has been particularly searing. Along with the run-of-the-mill trash talk — “;feeding at the public trough,”; “;greedy good-for-nothings”; — there have been expressed desires for public employees to suffer the pain workers in the private sector have been subject to.

Where does this call for an equalization of misery come from? It arrives, of course, because taxpayers feel their deprivation is due to their hard-earned dollars (are there any other kinds) being transferred into pockets of public workers. But if pressed, many taxpayers would acknowledge that the government provides necessary services.

There are the evident, like trash collections, and not so evident, like tracking businesses' compliance with health and safety regulations, surveying stream easements, testing for flu viruses, reviewing insurance rates and thousands more mind-numbing procedures of a bureaucracy.

There's also the complaint that there are just too-darn many people on the state's and counties' payrolls, about 73,000 by counts of four major union enrollments. But growth in population is followed by a demand for more services. And there aren't too many public workers when a citizen needs help for something now, now, now.

This isn't an argument for bigger government or bigger paychecks for my friends, casual acquaintances, relatives and high school classmates. It is an argument against packing people into a stereotype easy to abuse and condemn.

To quote a favorite novelist, “;People one at a time are a lot more appetizing than you would think if you look at them all at once.”;

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Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)