Hard Candy: Benefits

It’s budget time again and local governments are trying to keep from raising taxes. Fine. Good. I understand that need, but it makes me cringe to see governments cut employee benefits.
You see, despite the widely publicized misconception that it’s a walk in the park to work for the government, municipal employees take a tremendous amount of crap and have relatively few benefits. Paid vacation and sick leave? Yes, they get that. Pensions? Maybe, if they contribute. Health insurance? Probably, but just for them, and it isn’t necessarily great coverage. Raises? Not recently. Tuition reimbursement? Don’t make me laugh.
Well, good, you might be saying to yourself right now. I haven’t gotten a raise in three years, so what’s the big deal?
Before I answer that, understand where I’m coming from. As a 1099 employee I buy my own health insurance, save for my own retirement, and pay both the employee and employer portions of my taxes. I have no sick leave, vacation time, pension plan, disability, or, really, job security. I get a paycheck from my clients, but I don’t get raises. So if anyone might feel like city employees have too many perks, it might be me. But I used to work for a local government, and trust me, those perks don’t make it worth while.
Private sector employees have the luxury of choosing their customers. Nowhere in city hall is there a sign that reads “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” although I’ve seen people treat city staff more hideously than they would ever dream of treating their dry cleaner.
Private sector employees can have a bad day and shoot off an e-mail they shouldn’t. Result? They may get disciplined or, in severe cases, fired. Government employees can do the same thing and end up on the front page of the paper.
As a government employee, anyone can find out how much money you make, and citizens will not hesitate to tell you, “I pay your salary. You have to do what I say.” Some taxpayers feel like it is their constitutional right to berate and belittle any government employee. These employees cannot send these people away; they must accept unkindness and outright mean-spiritedness from everyone who walks through their door.
Ask any government employee why they work for the government, and all but a select few will tell you “the benefits” or “job security.” They make less than their private sector counterparts, take more abuse, and are subject to a more public life. The notion that they have job security and can take their babies to the doctor without worrying about how to pay the bills makes these jobs more palatable. But come budget time some commissions- St. Pete Beach is a prime example- think nothing of slashing those benefits or reducing the workforce.
I hear people like St. Pete Beach Commissioner Bev Garnett say “they’re lucky to have a job”- as if that justifies chipping systematically away at the one thing that made them want to take the job instead of a more lucrative one elsewhere. That’s’ when I want to grab her by the ear and drag her into a city department. Let her do any one of city staff’s jobs for a few days, and then let’s hear how “lucky” they are after she’s led the charge calling for layoffs and benefit reductions.
This woman, by the way, is the same commissioner who did not hesitate to speak up for funding Beach Goes Pops, because that helps local businesses, but she’ll say the city should remove a $5,000 line item for tuition reimbursement because “they’re not our kids; we didn’t raise them.”
No, they aren’t, and she may have a point, but it’s weak. That workforce that you’ve reduced by 30% over the past year serves the residents that need city services. Businesses may see government as an interference to be dealt with, but homeowners see government as a necessity. Homeowners need services, like a sewer system that isn’t collapsing or roads not pockmarked with potholes. Yet the commission rushes to cut funding for the people and services that help residents but turns around and gives that money to business-related efforts. While I don’t dispute that a healthy economy is vital to a city’s well-being, just who the hell is this commission serving, anyway?
That staff that suffers while the city hands money over to promotional efforts while cutting their few paltry benefits? Well, they make sure residents have safe drinking water, handle the sewage leaving the homes, keep voters safe, and generally help ensure that the citizens of the beach have their basic needs met.
I’m not saying they’re perfect, and I’m not saying they don’t screw up. But they are the ones who do a million thankless jobs every year, often get yelled at in return, and sacrifice a normal job for the bizarre world of city hall.
For god’s sake, let them have their benefits. They’re devoting their lives to you; shouldn’t your commission at least make sure they can go to a doctor when they’re ill?

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.