2011-01-21 / Columnists

The Progressive

Public Enemies
By John Paul Culotta

This Christmas, as I was waiting for the snow plow and saw the sanitation workers cleaning my street I reflected on how relieved my neighbors were.

Many of us remember a teacher who was essential to our development. Many were so appreciative of the firefighters and police personnel on September 11, 2001. Some of us have been patients in medical institutions that are public entities and if the staff was not diligent our health would have been in danger. The school teacher, firefighter, police, and many other workers for the federal government, city and/or state are so essential to our life and are often our friends and neighbors. It is so sad that these civil servants are being portrayed as public enemies that are causing the rest of us to pay higher taxes for fewer services.

This coordinated attack on civil servants is an attempt to make the already dying union movement less powerful. While less than eight percent of private employees are unionized; many government employees are unionized. Truth is most government employees are paid less than comparable employees in private industry.

As a result their positions are rewarded with a decent pension and medical benefits that all Amer-ican workers should receive.

Fox News and many Republican politicians have accused the Obama administration of increasing the number of federal employees. It is true that there was an increase in federal employees because of the constitutional requirement of an enumerated census. Another fallacy is that government workers have generous pensions.

Many government workers do not contribute or receive Social Security benefits and according to the National Association of State Administrators the average public sector defined benefit retirement systems pays $26,000 annually.

It is not the civil servant that has caused the financial problems of our federal, state, and local governments. It was the manipulation of our financial sector elite that has caused the awful mess we Americans suffer with. When that snow plow comes is the worker a public servant or an enemy? Is the school teacher who devotes a life to teaching and developing minds in less than perfect conditions a public servant or enemy? Is a firefighter who runs into a burning home a public servant or enemy? Is the police surveillance that has prevented another terrorist attack a public service? All of these civil servants deserve respect and decent remuneration for their service.

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