Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cushy jobs

One of the things that has really irked me in the debate over initiative 1100 has been the portrayal of government employees. I know that it's popular to bash government. I have a pretty good idea why that is, as well. After all, I cannot go to a competing government to get better service. People like to complain the same way about other monopolies or near monopolies like utility firms and cable companies. I get that. But we also know that just because a company is private doesn't mean that it's run any better as anyone who has dealt with customer service from Comcast, Sprint, Microsoft, et al, is aware.

In my experience both in private industry and in the government I've met my fair share of less valuable, less competent employees. I can honestly state that I don't find one system better than the other. In any bureaucracy - public or private - you are bound to attract people of a variety of skills, quality, and motivations. Sometimes it's easy to weed these people out; sometimes it's not. In the latter case the person is often promoted to a position less harmful in the organization.

One of the spokespeople for the "Yes on 1100" campaign is fond of saying the liquor board employs people with "cushy government jobs". I heard Ashley Bach say this in the debate at Town Hall. He reiterated it in his post on The Slog a week or so later. For the record, I'm not fond of Ashley's style. He comes off as smug, arrogant (in the way of the actor in the "I'm a PC" ad), rude, and a poor debater. So, making this statement about "cushy government jobs" really rubs me the wrong way.

Most of the liquor store employees that I know are hard working people who care about their jobs and customer service. Their jobs are not easy either; certainly not "cushy". Once a week there is a delivery of booze - up to 1200 cases at some stores. Each case weighs about 35 pounds. The goal, often achieved, is to put away that entire load in one day and stock the shelves and take care of the customers that day. Yea, more than one person works on these loads, but I can assure you that everyone who does, works their ass off. On top of that these workers deal with all sorts of customers. Granted, the vast majority of our customers are fantastic, but as with any job you meet some folks who are inconsolable. In fact, given the product, I'd say we meet more of these folks than your average Whole Foods clerk. And, if you think dealing with the government is sometimes a pain in the ass, just try working through the bureaucracy from the inside. Forms, signatures, more forms, specific rules, etc. There's a lot to know and do. The bottom line is they work hard for their money and their pay is comparable to pay at Costco and Fred Meyers, if not a little lower (I know as a manager that I get paid much lower and I put in the same work at my clerk's sides).

I'm aware that Mr. Bach considers these jobs "cushy" not just because of the nature of the work. He uses that term as code for well paid (we're some of the lowest pay in Washington government), good benefits, and pensions. News flash: that pension system hasn't been the same as it used to be for a long time, now. In fact when I qualified I found my options to be a choice of 401k plans. Yep, my cushy job's retirement has tanked just like most Americans thanks to those titans of private industry. As for the benefits? Well, we do get decent health care plan options for a reasonable copay (going up, just like everyone). Keeping the copay low is a way to compensate the workers for the lower pay that they get compared to the private sector. Rather than bash the liquor board clerks I'd rather see Mr. Bach get out there and campaign for lower copays for workers in private industry.

But that's not Mr. Bach's game. I suspect his views are more in line with his former employer's, The Seattle Times. That paper has cut it's contributions to it's employee's health care while the publisher (the Blethen's - inherited wealth) push for government to emulate it's model of prosperity. A prosperity, for the record, that they don't want burdened with a modest income tax. Is it surprising that this same paper is endorsing Initiative 1100 as well?

Mr. Bach worked for The Seattle Times for 5.5 years. During that time The Times faced a legal battle with the Seattle P-I. As that battle waged on The Times sought to portray itself as a victim of the owners of the P-I. In order to carry out this publicity stunt The Times hired Pacific Public Affairs. Can you imagine which firm that Mr. Bach works for now, after leaving The Times, that seeks to promote Initiative 1100? Yes, Pacific Public Affairs - the same firm that once worked for The Times while Mr. Bach also worked for the newspaper.

So, let's see - Mr. Bach, former journalist and now publicist, says that liquor clerks have cushy jobs. It takes chutzpah for a paid hack to call liquor store clerk's jobs cushy. As unseemly as it can be to see people revolve out of government to lobbying jobs, I think it's equally unseemly for what Mr. Bach has done. He worked for one employer, left to that employer's publicist, and now they sing a chorus of fiscally irresponsible, conservative policies. Mr. Bach, you're the one on the Republican welfare plan. You're the one with the cushy job. You're free to entertain your opinion that America should continue it's path to the lowest common denominator for it's working class, but don't you dare dismiss that working class as "cushy".

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