State workers ordinary people, too

By Clyde Davis: Local columnist

The holidays are, most definitely, a time when we take stock of and count our blessings. They are also a time when we figure out how we shall allocate limited resources to cover the ways we wish to express our love, be it gifts, parties, or travel expenses to share time with loved ones.

The timing, then, to furlough state workers for number of unpaid days, totaling a 2 percent wage cut, could not have been worse. Several hundred dollars spread out over time — say, an hour unpaid to leave work early or come in late, over a month or two — might have been a welcome way to do this. Alternately, more advance notice might have helped the palatability. The original plan, though, included an unpaid day off for Christmas Eve and another for New Year’s Eve. Those of us who live by pay periods can understand the impact of this.

Frontline state workers have already borne the brunt of some of Santa Fe’s fiscal irresponsibility. For example, some specialties, such as counselors or wildlife specialists, required to do continuing education, have sacrificed travel for that training, committing instead to doing so online, sometimes without adequate technology.Insurance for health and medical have also dipped deeper into the individual’s pocket.

It’s significant that the exempt employees, essentially department heads and executive positions, are not slated to lose any income over the holiday season.

The problem arising over this, in terms of its impact, is one which may, by analogy, be familiar to many armed forces veterans. As people tend to do with the military, there is a tendency to lump state employees into a category, rather than remember them as individuals who happen to work in a large system. In other words, we forget that the system is composed of real people.

Let’s break it down, then, since the holidays are a time of re-humanizing ourselves. The state employee is the $10 an hour secretary who brings her kids to your restaurant for lunch. The state employee is the $40,000/year game warden who buys his tools at your hardware store. The state employee is the $24 an hour counselor who buys groceries from you.

We could go on with examples, but the point should be clear. The state employee is a real person, someone’s father, mother, brother or daughter, whose life interfaces with yours and whose income may also interface with yours. She is your next door neighbor, he sits beside you in church, she coaches your grandson’s soccer team.

The employees of the state perform vital functions. We are talking about mental health and job rehabilitation counselors, about state police and conservation officers, about the people who handle your driver’s license and auto registration work, and who arrange highway maintenance. The majority of state employees do not occupy cushy offices in Santa Fe.

The economy is harsh for many folks right now, and the danger is that any group might develop a “Me, first” mentality. What better time to remember that we are all interrelated, and what impacts one, impacts all? As a basic democracy, we cannot shirk responsibility for what happens in Santa Fe, and if we do not speak our minds, exert our influence, shirking is exactly what we are doing.