Government Service: Is the Pig Really So Fat?

In times of economic stress, government employees are heavily scrutinized, just as many people in the private sector are. But sacrificing a person’s job on a bean-counters’ altar should be the course of last resort, not the first, and not based on the fact employees belong to a union. However, as the scrutiny goes up, so do many of the famous myths of the “easy” life as a government employee.

Many believe unions bear the bulk of the problem regardless of the fact that some employees can’t strike. A union without the prospect of a strike, is pretty toothless. I believe I can speak with some authority on the issue because I was once a federal worker.

In my unionized shop, pay rates weren’t set by collective bargaining. The feds set them by comparisons with “equal” private sector jobs. I was a fully licensed aircraft mechanic. I rebuilt state of the art Navy F-14 fighters, engines, and components. My “equivalents” were unlicensed, low-skilled, and low-compensation floor workers at a local Mrs. Smith pie bakery. At the time, salaries for private sector aircraft mechanics were about 3X what the Apple Dumpling Gang got.

And fabulous benefits? Boy howdy! New workers received 1 week of vacation at the end of their first year. If illness or family emergencies left you short of time for the mandatory “vacation”,  you paid for the time you “wasted”.

In the Shallow End of the Social Security Pool
At the time, there was a de rigueur defined benefit pension similar to the private sector’s. During a hiatus in my government service, the pensions died and replaced by Social Security without benefit of a 401k style plan. Although I was grandfathered under the old pension system, the government required me to pay the equivalent amount of Social Security paid during my hiatus. Fair enough, but they’d only take a lump-sum payment and if you couldn’t pay that you went straight to the shallow end of the Social Security pool.

Health insurance? Proportionally, I paid far more for roughly equal insurance than I do today. So much in fact, I had enter the private sector when I got married because we couldn’t afford the insurance on a pie maker’s salary.

But perhaps the biggest issue was the work conditions. And even there, the union didn’t hold much sway. Employees were routinely subjected to treatment that would’ve guaranteed strikes, or big lawsuits, in the private sector.

For example, management removed doors from toilet stalls so they could see anyone with an unusual number of bouts with the squitters. In some shops, employees had to raise their hands and ask permission to take a dump like a third grader. Managers also attached magnets to bits of string and randomly tossed them onto people’s shoes to make sure they were steel-toed. But the last indignity was downright dangerous working conditions.

I worked mandatory 10-12 hour shifts, including many Saturdays, for months on end. My shop was a non-air conditioned, poorly ventilated room with outside temperatures running in the upper 90s and live steam pipes running under the floor. The average summertime temperature in the room averaged about 120 degrees. The government’s method for stemming the number of heat-related injuries was to offer salt pills served in open buckets.

We also inhaled atomized heptane and Freon. We were protected from the heptane only by an unsealed plastic baggy over the equipment and our skin with nothing at all (including gloves). Although told we needed no safety equipment, hazmat workers pumped out the waste tanks wearing full protective gear and oxygen masks (not simply respirators).

In the end, the union had no real effect on pay or any of these bizarre workplace rules.

American Jobs Fly Away
Eventually, I left government for the private sector. It was a good thing too. All but one of the Navy’s similar facilities closed shortly after I left and the work turned over to private companies. Oh, and maintenance for those F-14s? Much of it went off shore, leaving a potential wartime capability gap while exposing high-tech airplanes to easier espionage attempts. The decision lost tens of thousands of American jobs too. And unions? They couldn’t do a thing about it.

Yes, my government service was long ago. I’m sure much has changed, but the union wasn’t the sole problem then and it’s not the whole problem now. It’s a mistake to think every government worker lives in the lap of luxury or that mean unions harass and stymie the government at every turn.

Government workers are like workers in the private sector. They work hard. They sometimes put up with squalid work conditions and bad management.  They find themselves increasingly ill-equipped to live the middle class American dream, because the dream costs money. They understandably want to keep theirs – just as non-unionized workers aren’t flocking to front offices to voluntarily sacrifice their jobs to a CEO with bulging pockets who screws not only the taxpayers, but the workers as well.

I approve of examining spending cuts – clearly we need some. But, I’d also ask that the examination not be run by those with far better compensation and agendas far beyond rational budget cutting. I want a fair assessment, built on truth and honesty, by people who don’t have unreasonable demands and minds made up before they even look at things. I expect unions to recognize the challenges of deficit spending too. And if we need layoffs, we shouldn’t carry them out with a crude butcher knife in place of a good, sharp scalpel.

To do otherwise isn’t good for workers or the country.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Government Service: Is the Pig Really So Fat?

In times of economic stress, government employees are heavily scrutinized, just as many people in the private sector are. But sacrificing a person’s job on a bean-counters’ altar should be the course of last resort, not the first, and not based on the fact employees belong to a union. However, as the scrutiny goes up, so do many of the famous myths of the “easy” life as a government employee.

Many believe unions bear the bulk of the problem regardless of the fact that some employees can’t strike. A union without the prospect of a strike, is pretty toothless. I believe I can speak with some authority on the issue because I was once a federal worker.

In my unionized shop, pay rates weren’t set by collective bargaining. The feds set them by comparisons with “equal” private sector jobs. I was a fully licensed aircraft mechanic. I rebuilt state of the art Navy F-14 fighters, engines, and components. My “equivalents” were unlicensed, low-skilled, and low-compensation floor workers at a local Mrs. Smith pie bakery. At the time, salaries for private sector aircraft mechanics were about 3X what the Apple Dumpling Gang got.

And fabulous benefits? Boy howdy! New workers received 1 week of vacation at the end of their first year. If illness or family emergencies left you short of time for the mandatory “vacation”,  you paid for the time you “wasted”.

In the Shallow End of the Social Security Pool
At the time, there was a de rigueur defined benefit pension similar to the private sector’s. During a hiatus in my government service, the pensions died and replaced by Social Security without benefit of a 401k style plan. Although I was grandfathered under the old pension system, the government required me to pay the equivalent amount of Social Security paid during my hiatus. Fair enough, but they’d only take a lump-sum payment and if you couldn’t pay that you went straight to the shallow end of the Social Security pool.

Health insurance? Proportionally, I paid far more for roughly equal insurance than I do today. So much in fact, I had enter the private sector when I got married because we couldn’t afford the insurance on a pie maker’s salary.

But perhaps the biggest issue was the work conditions. And even there, the union didn’t hold much sway. Employees were routinely subjected to treatment that would’ve guaranteed strikes, or big lawsuits, in the private sector.

For example, management removed doors from toilet stalls so they could see anyone with an unusual number of bouts with the squitters. In some shops, employees had to raise their hands and ask permission to take a dump like a third grader. Managers also attached magnets to bits of string and randomly tossed them onto people’s shoes to make sure they were steel-toed. But the last indignity was downright dangerous working conditions.

I worked mandatory 10-12 hour shifts, including many Saturdays, for months on end. My shop was a non-air conditioned, poorly ventilated room with outside temperatures running in the upper 90s and live steam pipes running under the floor. The average summertime temperature in the room averaged about 120 degrees. The government’s method for stemming the number of heat-related injuries was to offer salt pills served in open buckets.

We also inhaled atomized heptane and Freon. We were protected from the heptane only by an unsealed plastic baggy over the equipment and our skin with nothing at all (including gloves). Although told we needed no safety equipment, hazmat workers pumped out the waste tanks wearing full protective gear and oxygen masks (not simply respirators).

In the end, the union had no real effect on pay or any of these bizarre workplace rules.

American Jobs Fly Away
Eventually, I left government for the private sector. It was a good thing too. All but one of the Navy’s similar facilities closed shortly after I left and the work turned over to private companies. Oh, and maintenance for those F-14s? Much of it went off shore, leaving a potential wartime capability gap while exposing high-tech airplanes to easier espionage attempts. The decision lost tens of thousands of American jobs too. And unions? They couldn’t do a thing about it.

Yes, my government service was long ago. I’m sure much has changed, but the union wasn’t the sole problem then and it’s not the whole problem now. It’s a mistake to think every government worker lives in the lap of luxury or that mean unions harass and stymie the government at every turn.

Government workers are like workers in the private sector. They work hard. They sometimes put up with squalid work conditions and bad management.  They find themselves increasingly ill-equipped to live the middle class American dream, because the dream costs money. They understandably want to keep theirs – just as non-unionized workers aren’t flocking to front offices to voluntarily sacrifice their jobs to a CEO with bulging pockets who screws not only the taxpayers, but the workers as well.

I approve of examining spending cuts – clearly we need some. But, I’d also ask that the examination not be run by those with far better compensation and agendas far beyond rational budget cutting. I want a fair assessment, built on truth and honesty, by people who don’t have unreasonable demands and minds made up before they even look at things. I expect unions to recognize the challenges of deficit spending too. And if we need layoffs, we shouldn’t carry them out with a crude butcher knife in place of a good, sharp scalpel.

To do otherwise isn’t good for workers or the country.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Frat Boys and Navy Officers

 

by Walter Brasch

 

        When the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot two weeks ago published on its internet page three videos made four years ago by the executive officer of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, it unleashed a firestorm that would sink the career of a decorated officer.

          The Navy's actions to relieve Capt. Owen Honors of command of the Enterprise—he had been twice promoted after the videos were made—appears to be little more than a desperate attempt at damage control.

          Honors, a Naval Academy graduate and Top Gun pilot with more than 3,400 hours flight time and 700 carrier landings, produced and starred in the videos, which were transmitted on the Enterprise's Closed Circuit Television System (CCTV). Those videos included scenes of sexual innuendo, homophobic jokes, and fraternity boy bathroom humor. None of the videos, while suggestive, sank into the depths of pornography. At the time, Honors, and most of the 4,800-person crew, believed the videos, broadcast while the ship was in combat operations, was a morale booster.

          On Facebook, Twitter, and in the other media, even before the Navy made its decision on Honors' career, thousands called the videos disgusting and inappropriate.

          Honors now  acknowledges the videos showed "extremely poor judgment" on his part. Adm. John Harvey Jr., commander of the U.S. Fleet forces, said the reason he reassigned Honors to desk duty, effectively ending his career, was because he "lost confidence in Capt. Honors' ability to lead effectively."

          However, thousands of sailors and former sailors have come to Honors' defense. A "support" page on Facebook includes about 27,000 individuals. Among those who support the captain are those who argue not only is Honors an excellent officer, but that the videos did what they were intended to do—raise crew morale during combat.

          Although the Navy had ordered Honors to stop producing the videos, it took no other disciplinary action. Only after publication did the Navy take official action, attempting to stop the flood of attacks by closing the hatch on a distinguished military career.

          If such actions by Honors were acceptable in 2006 and 2007, why were they now not acceptable? And, if they were not acceptable in 2006 and 2007, why was nothing done by the Navy to discipline one of its senior officers? Is Adm. Harvey's actions the result of a media firestorm or because Honors truly is not fit for command?

          But there is something else that needs to be understood, and it may be because the Navy has a bipolar Jekyll–Hyde history.

          The Jekyll part is a Navy that has rigorous physical and educational standards for those in several of its services—SEALS, the nuclear Navy (both undersea and surface), and Naval aviation.

          The Hyde part is a correlation between the Navy (as well as most military branches) and college fraternities. The enlisted ranks are filled with persons the same age as college students, with many of the same school boy values and beliefs, including a penchant for partying, bathroom humor, and tasteless jokes. Junior officers are usually recent college graduates. Both the military and fraternities, not unlike the general population, also have long histories of discrimination, sexism, and homophobia, parts of which appear in the videos.  

          The most serious recent incident occurred in September 1991 at a convention in Las Vegas. About 100 Navy and Marine pilots were accused of sexual assault on more than 80 women. In a "boys will be boys" attitude, condoned by senior flag officers in attendance, the first investigation was a whitewash. A subsequent investigation, demanded by the female assistant secretary of the Navy, detailed criminal conduct that would scuttle the careers of more than 300 individuals, both civilian and military.

          Thus, it is not unusual that in a climate that condones fraternity-boy attitudes, complete with hazing at all levels, a decorated senior officer with extraordinary high fitness reports, may have believed what he did to boost morale would not be a problem.

          The Navy's lack of response in 2007 may have been far too lenient. However, its current actions are similar to what college administrators do to fraternities and sororities that cause embarrassment. College administrations spend a lot of time telling fraternities and sororities they must adhere to certain standards of conduct, but usually enforce those standards only when actions—including public drunkenness, hazing, sexism, and homophobia—becomes public.  It's then the college administration, like the Navy, declare such actions are unacceptable and, trying to stem public anger, overkill the response.

 

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, and a former newspaper and magazine writer/editor and tenured full professor of mass communications. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com.]

 

 

The Hell With Atheists After the Foxholes

Many people say, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” As a practical matter this obviously isn’t the case, but the Army’s new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program (CSFP) implies it should.

The mandatory program measures soldier fitness in a variety of dimensions to help them cope with the rigors of combat. It’s spiritual dimension has a wealth of information for believers. However, it  implies that only believers need or can be helped in this dimension. In short, non-theists need not apply.

There’s nothing wrong with measuring and grading this dimension. It is critical to overcoming battlefield trauma. Whatever gets you through the terrors of war is great. But grading and providing solely religious-based feedback can demoralize non-believers and deprive them of helpful information in much the same way DADT chose to simply ignore the presence of gays. Non-theists are similarly marginalized.

Clean Toilets or Go to Chruch?
And, this ignoring of other than religious – more often than not non-Christian points of view – is larger than this program.

As a young airman in basic training during the 1970s everyone was offered two choices each Sunday – attend church or stay in the barracks and clean toilets.

Hmm…clean toilets or escape the tedium of 24×7 training for an hour singing and laughing with friends? Which shall I choose?

To the Air Force’s credit, the services were non-denominational and mentioned God only once or twice per service. There were two prayers, both of which were generic enough to interpret in any way, including as a non-theist statement. Services were comprised of signing vaguely religious, up tempo, and “modern” songs. To escape cleaning toilets with a toothbrush most atheists saw it as a good trade.

Nods to religion for the rest of my Air Force career were limited to my dog tags – which you could label as atheist, any religion, or not applicable. I entered “Granitellism” a faux belief that race car driver Andy Granitelli was God because he could pick up a screwdriver covered in oil. It didn’t cause an eyebrow to flutter.

It seems there has been a steady movement backward since those days.

In addition to CSFP, the Air Force Academy has suffered a long-standing bias against all but Christians and despite several Pentagon attempts to change, it continues. Individual unit commanders sometimes cross the same line and chaplains – which in my day did more social work than God’s work – have upped the ante.

Service members sometimes refuse to attend nondenominational services conducted by Islamic chaplains or vice versa. The Navy has squabbled over building mosques on large bases. National cemeteries banned atheist and multi-theist symbols on graves until recently because they “offended” the religious.

Unreasonable Demands?
Generally speaking, non-thesists haven’t made unreasonable demands for accommodation just as gays haven’t. When services build chapels and mosques there isn’t a clamor for an atheist house for contemplation. Asking for a symbol on a veteran’s grave is hardly a big thing. But, the CSFP goes a step beyond.

By refusing to include non-theists in CSFP the Army denies help to those service members, even though they remained atheists while in the foxholes…arm to arm with straight, gay, and minority soldiers.

The military is all about releasing some individuality to serve a greater purpose, a non-religious purpose. The Army used to call this, “An Army of One”. It degrades the contributions of non-believers because they didn’t give up an individual right guaranteed by the Constitution, and at least nominally by military training.

It’s simply wrong for the military to tout individual rights during training while denying those rights when the bullets fly.

After all, bullets don’t have an opinion about God.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

The Hell With Atheists After the Foxholes

Many people say, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” As a practical matter this obviously isn’t the case, but the Army’s new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program (CSFP) implies it should.

The mandatory program measures soldier fitness in a variety of dimensions to help them cope with the rigors of combat. It’s spiritual dimension has a wealth of information for believers. However, it  implies that only believers need or can be helped in this dimension. In short, non-theists need not apply.

There’s nothing wrong with measuring and grading this dimension. It is critical to overcoming battlefield trauma. Whatever gets you through the terrors of war is great. But grading and providing solely religious-based feedback can demoralize non-believers and deprive them of helpful information in much the same way DADT chose to simply ignore the presence of gays. Non-theists are similarly marginalized.

Clean Toilets or Go to Chruch?
And, this ignoring of other than religious – more often than not non-Christian points of view – is larger than this program.

As a young airman in basic training during the 1970s everyone was offered two choices each Sunday – attend church or stay in the barracks and clean toilets.

Hmm…clean toilets or escape the tedium of 24×7 training for an hour singing and laughing with friends? Which shall I choose?

To the Air Force’s credit, the services were non-denominational and mentioned God only once or twice per service. There were two prayers, both of which were generic enough to interpret in any way, including as a non-theist statement. Services were comprised of signing vaguely religious, up tempo, and “modern” songs. To escape cleaning toilets with a toothbrush most atheists saw it as a good trade.

Nods to religion for the rest of my Air Force career were limited to my dog tags – which you could label as atheist, any religion, or not applicable. I entered “Granitellism” a faux belief that race car driver Andy Granitelli was God because he could pick up a screwdriver covered in oil. It didn’t cause an eyebrow to flutter.

It seems there has been a steady movement backward since those days.

In addition to CSFP, the Air Force Academy has suffered a long-standing bias against all but Christians and despite several Pentagon attempts to change, it continues. Individual unit commanders sometimes cross the same line and chaplains – which in my day did more social work than God’s work – have upped the ante.

Service members sometimes refuse to attend nondenominational services conducted by Islamic chaplains or vice versa. The Navy has squabbled over building mosques on large bases. National cemeteries banned atheist and multi-theist symbols on graves until recently because they “offended” the religious.

Unreasonable Demands?
Generally speaking, non-thesists haven’t made unreasonable demands for accommodation just as gays haven’t. When services build chapels and mosques there isn’t a clamor for an atheist house for contemplation. Asking for a symbol on a veteran’s grave is hardly a big thing. But, the CSFP goes a step beyond.

By refusing to include non-theists in CSFP the Army denies help to those service members, even though they remained atheists while in the foxholes…arm to arm with straight, gay, and minority soldiers.

The military is all about releasing some individuality to serve a greater purpose, a non-religious purpose. The Army used to call this, “An Army of One”. It degrades the contributions of non-believers because they didn’t give up an individual right guaranteed by the Constitution, and at least nominally by military training.

It’s simply wrong for the military to tout individual rights during training while denying those rights when the bullets fly.

After all, bullets don’t have an opinion about God.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

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