By TONI OAKES
I have to take offense to the comments in the Publisher's notebook (Jan. 6) about a teenager's wages vs. a ''public-sector'' employee earning $50,000 a year. First of all, I was one of those ''public-sector'' employees for 33 years.
When I started working, full-time, for New York state in 1976, I earned $3,500 a year. I was a single mom with no child support and I made a whopping $3 too much, a year, to get food stamp assistance. When I retired, my income was $35,000. So, it took me 33 years to gradually earn an extra zero to my annual income.
Toward the end of my career, I watched how New York state has followed in the federal governments' footsteps, of hiring more people part-time to try to fill the bleeding void caused by the mass layoffs of union workers. The amount of work remains the same, but you have less employees, with less time - four or six hour shifts - to do the work. As a result, you have more overtime paid to individual employees (probably the one that made $50,000), but the worst part is the employees suffering from heart attacks and strokes, as well as employees needing mental health services.
Those numbers are rising. New York state has more employees hurrying to get the job done, so that they don't get fired, who in their rush to get the job done - are getting hurt on the job, and the state is forced to pay for more workers' compensation. In addition, since their income is reduced, the majority of part-time workers are also eligible to receive Social Services. So, forgive my confusion, but I don't know where you got that figure of $50,000.
By the way ... did you know that New York state requires every employer to have disability insurance on their employees ... except for themselves, of course? Yes, state employees have to purchase their own insurance to protect themselves. That's probably another reason why New York state doesn't mind loading 10 hours of work on an employee and expecting it all to be done in eight hours and in some cases six hours.
Did you also know that state employees are not allowed to sue the state for any reason - including gross negligence? Employees must first quit, in order to sue their employer for anything, including harassment, neglect, or discrimination.
What I find interesting, is that you do not differentiate between the two very different factions of a government agency: the union worker and the management worker. Both are ''public-sector'' employees. The big difference is the majority of those chiefs make close to six figures a year - and their workload seems to be comprised mainly of supervision and meetings that are dedicated to finding ways to cut costs. And the ratio of workers to chiefs is let's be generous here 6-to-1. Those chiefs do none of the grass-roots work that keeps the facilities running smoothly, such as grounds, clerical, medical, power plants, maintenance, housekeeping, and the mechanics that keep the New York state fleet up and running for the ''public sector'' management.
You also do not mention the ''perks'' that come with a ''public sector'' management job. Do you know that SUNY presidents are given a residence to live in? Do you know that New York state pays the heat and electricity of those houses and keep up the grounds? Do you know that New York state puts gas in their vehicles? Vehicles that are often used for personal use.
New York State provides vehicles for correctional facility superintendents ... and yes, the gas and maintenance as well. Perhaps you can explain to me because I've never been able to figure it out why someone who makes six figures a year, and can afford to pay for their own heat, lights, taxes, vehicle gas and maintenance ... doesn't have to?
If those are ''incidentals to their position," then shouldn't they be disclosed as part of their salary and whoops! that makes it quite a bit more than that measly little six figure salary, doesn't it?
Did you know that some state employees have to pay to park at their job ... even in northern New York? With every little bit the state employee gets ... New York state never hesitates to reach out to take back. But enough of that, let's move on to the pensions that you insinuated as being generous.
First of all, the unionized state employees contribute a part of their paycheck for their retirement. That money goes into a fund that our comptroller invests for us. He does a wonderful job, as it is still solvent despite the economic downturn in the face of corporate greed and Wall Street boondoggles. It is the main reason our pension funds are a constant target of the governor and the politicians of this state. They would love to be able to dip into our hard earned retirement fund to try to get themselves out of a jam. So in addition to cutting the grass-roots state employees, they also want to pilfer our hard earned retirement.
As has been the case for years, the governor is trying to balance the budget on the lower-income employee backs. Might I suggest that the governor take a chunk of the money he is throwing away elsewhere say in Buffalo - and have the comptroller invest it as he has done our retirement fund? It may take awhile, but the funds earned could substantially ease the deficit of this state.
Might I also suggest that - when it comes to the State budget you take the politicians out of the equation? Create a panel (the governor is good at doing that) of women and men, who have been or still are single parents, or lower-income family members, to address and create the state budget. All the politicians have to do is say "yay" or "nay." I make that suggestion because, unlike some politicians, these individuals know how to live within their means as do most of the people of this state who earn the median income you mentioned. Our politicians don't seem to be able to do that without easing ''a little'' over toward their favorite pet causes, or contributors.
I would ask that, in future, if you are going to defame the ''public-sector'' worker, please be sure to indicate which faction of the public-sector is the real drain on New York state. If the governor continues to cut the baseline union jobs, here's not going to be anyone to do the essential work that keeps this state running. Because the Chiefs don't know the workers' job - or how to do it, either correctly or well.
In closing, I have to say that the state union workers who I have been privileged to work with in my 33 years, are conscientious, have an excellent work ethic and take pride in their work. They may be bowed, but they are not broken.
So, call that teenager. I'm sure he's going to want a lot more than $15 to mow that campus, or $10 to clean off all the walkways. But since he's not going to get any medical insurance, or be offered any retirement plan ... I'm pretty sure he's not really going to care if the job is done properly or not.
But if he gets hurt doing the job, I am sure he will sue you for damages.
Toni Oakes is a resident of Massena.