Joe Doakes of Como Park in St. Paul – a government worker, by the way – sent me an email:
It’s a link to a John Tevlin piece in the Strib. We’ll come back to that.
It was sent to me by another government employee. Some government employees feel as if budget cutters are attacking the employees on the grounds of worth, as in “you’re not worth what we’re paying you.” That’s off-putting to them, their families, to mushy-middle types.
It’s a good point. It’s a bit of messaging that conservatives should mind – because you know that the left and media (pardon the redundancy) will exaggerate it for their own purposes.
Which is a great segue into Tevlin (we’ll come back to Joe’s point in just a moment, here). Tevlin’s a lower-budget Nick Coleman; he uses the death of a county worker last week in the flooding in southwest Minnesota…:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker never met Mike Struck. Nor have most of the politicians who are demonizing public employees in order to advance their own careers and agendas.
…as a rhetorical cudgel in a “public versus private employees” battle that serves the DFL juuuust fine:
Some legislators like to portray anyone who has a government job as lazy, incompetent and overcompensated.
(Just as some columnists like to portray any criticism of big government as an attack on all government workers , which is itself lazy and overcompensation. Just saying).
It’s too bad they didn’t know Struck, because it’s important to remember that for every construction worker you see leaning on a shovel, for every nonchalant clerk at City Hall, there are many guys like Mike Struck, who showed up every day, worked his butt off, made your roads safer and cleaner, and ultimately gave his life doing his job.
And he did it all for $44,000 a year.
Clearly we need more Mike Strucks in Saint Paul…
…but that’s an unhelpful digression – for reasons I’ll explain later.
Struck, 39, was killed this week when his backhoe flipped over and fell into a creek at Seven Mile Creek Park, between St. Peter and Mankato, not far from his home town of Cleveland. He was part of a frantic attempt by Minnesota Department of Transportation workers to prevent flooding in southern Minnesota ahead of the melting snow.
“He was cleaning debris from a culvert to prevent flooding,” said Rebecca Arndt, a regional spokeswoman for MnDOT. Trying to protect his neighbors from harm and damage to their property?
“Yes, that’s exactly what he was doing,” she said.
According to his friends, Struck was the ultimate public servant.
“He loved his job,” said Wade Adams, a friend and co-worker. “I would swear he drank two Red Bulls before he came to work every day, he had so much energy. Whatever you needed to do, change a cutting edge or a flat tire, Mike was always the first one to be there to help. He was a very hard worker, and he was proud of his job.”
It’s a tragedy that Struck died.
But what we have here is a case of offsettling “rhetorical laziness” penalties.
Plenty of public sector workers work very hard, and deliver great results. My father – a teacher for something like 40 years, and a very good one – was certainly one of them. Ditto my mother’s parents – my grandma, who taught her whole career, and my grandfather, who taught for a couple decades before he left the profession to sell drugs .
We all know public-sector workers who do good work – firefighters and paramedics and cops, of course, but also teachers and public works people and yes, even bureaucrats in areas that much of society would struggle to call “essential government services” or, more to the point, “services that government, rather than the private sector, should provide”.
So it’s lazy, self-indulgent and ethically cowardly to say “all public workers are a waste”…
…just as it is to day “questioning government spending is spitting on Mike Struck’s grave”.
Which, alas, is Tevlin’s M.O. That, and pointless politicizing of tragedy:
That’s why the current backlash against public workers riles them now.
“I get so fed up with people who think we have cushy jobs,” said Lillie. “Mike was disgusted by it because people don’t understand what we go through, what we give up. One of my friends said, ‘Your job sucks, you’re on call 24/7.’ That’s right.”
And there’s John Tevlin’s rhetorical laziness at work.
Clearly Mike Struck’s life was worth vastly more than $44K, even including the pension.
You could ask whether Mike Struck made the same kind of money a private-sector heavy equipment operator/construction worker/handyman would make $44K, or whether that private sector worker should be compelled to work until he’s 70 so that Struck and his colleagues can retire at 55, ,or whether his job might not have been a better value had it been outsourced (or not)…
…but both of those dodge the real issue.
The real issue is not whether public sector workers, as individuals, or even as a class, are or are not overpaid, a great value, lazy, diligent or good human beings.
The real issues are “at a time when we, the private sector taxpayers, are suffering, is it our obligation to sacrifice disproportionally to insulate the public sector from any inconvenience?“, and “can some of government’s jobs be done better outside the public sector – or not at all?”
Naturally, it’s more convenient for Tevlin, and better advances the DFL, to advance the chanting point that “questionintg government” equals “attacking government workers”, along with shutting down schools and making grandma eat dog food.
A better message might be “you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing for the government, you should be doing it for private industry.”
And “given all the talk of “community” that the public sector pushes to justify its existence, shouldn’t the public sector – with no malice intended against public workers – be expected to share in some of the sacrifice we in the private sector, who pay their bills, are?
(PS: By the way, I’m with Tevlin on this part:
Note: Mike Struck’s colleagues have started a fund to educate his children. Make checks payable to Mike Struck Memorial Fund, c/o Nicollet County Bank, 220 S. 3rd St., St. Peter, MN 56082.
If you can…
 For a pharmaceutical company.