View painted unfair picture

I was outraged by the OBSERVER’s View (Jan. 24) concerning the Department of Labor’s recommendations. I was a bureaucrat for 30 years in the New York state Department of Labor. At one point, I was at a level high enough to have to reveal my tax returns, unlike a certain president of the United States.

A cushy job-no. 9-5, guess again.

I was unable to find the recommendations with which the editorial took issue. Maybe the editorial has a point that they are ill-advised. I am not certain because the editorial says “in many industries.” Union construction workers have gotten show-up time for years. This was a contractual issue. Union workers often traveled a good distance to a construction site. If for some reason, work was not available, (weather, unforeseen delays in material arrival) they got paid for at least two hours. Though this was not governed by law, it always seemed reasonable to me — especially as the cost of gasoline climbed.

For those who never worked in the bureaucracy, let me say this. There are lots of non-career bureaucrats, better known as political appointees. Usually these people are the ones who make the recommendations, unless they choose to listen to the career bureaucrats. I’ve worked under Democratic leadership and Republican leadership. Each had its own ax to grind. While it may seem an oversimplification, I found it generally true that Republicans favored business and Democrats favored labor. Both were ridiculous at times. A good bureaucrat continues to serve as fairly as possible. Indeed, some writers have recognized the role of the bureaucracy in creating stability. Were there bad career bureaucrats? Absolutely. Were there people who stuck their necks out to be fair and honest? Absolutely.

I don’t think vilifying the bureaucrats promotes a rational discussion. It’s as unfair as vilifying the media. It’s stereotyping at its worst. The editorial could have made its points without stooping to this.

Just so you know. When I started in the Labor Department I made $10,118 which at the time was less than a beginning teacher in the public schools. I use the example of a teacher because that was what I trained as — I hold permanent certification, and the position I took was an entry level professional. Even when, through promotion, I had risen to a Manager 2 level, I still made less than a teacher with comparable experience, was scheduled for longer hours and had less vacation. I drove through some pretty awful conditions to get to work-there were no snow days.

I worked in unemployment insurance from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. when I started. I had state holidays, two weeks of vacation and one week of personal leave. The vacation increased as I worked longer. I often worked through my lunch hour (without pay) as did others, including my supervisor. When I became supervisor, I often went in early and stayed late, as did my supervisor before me. Sometimes, if we were dealing with a large layoff, I went in on a weekend without pay. Rarely, things got so bad that overtime was authorized. I never took vacation time around a holiday, such as Christmas, since we had to do five day’s work in four during “short weeks.”

When I worked as an Apprentice Training Rep, I met with apprentices in the evenings and Saturdays. When I worked in Grants Management, I got up early to attend Workforce Investment Board meetings and had to schedule my hours to include travel across the state (as far as Binghamton). I had to make sure I didn’t work more hours than allowed, so I often ate the travel time. Not 9 to 5 at all.

I am grateful that I had a job that did in fact provide me a livelihood during a time when a job in the public schools was hard to obtain. At one point I was laid off (from the unemployment insurance division!) and lost about four years of continuous service. Luckily, I was eventually reinstated to a lower level, and was able to start climbing again. On the whole, the bureaucracy was a good job choice. But please understand many of us did — and probably still do — our best for the citizens of New York state.

Diane Chodan is a Dunkirk resident and former OBSERVER Lifestyles editor.

COMMENTS