Thursday, February 26, 2009

Furloughs can blow me!

Furlough = mandatory leave without pay

It is almost 11am and I am at work, but instead of actually working I am writing a blog about how much I don't enjoy working and how I dislike even more, the current state of affairs regarding contract negotiations.

I work in social services, a demanding, emotionally draining, time consuming, thankless job. I was already a jaded and cynical person (maybe because I was raised by parents who have spent their whole lives working in social services too) and now, coming up on the 3.5 year mark of employment with the state in social services I find that I am even MORE jaded and cynical about people and the world and I am only 27. Who knew it was even possible to be more cynical than I already was.

Granted, there are moments in social service which, are quite comical. Once a woman tried to hand me a used pregnancy test as verification that her daughter was pregnant. She just whipped it out of her purse and thrust it in my face, demanding I take it. Um, yeah, that isn't going to work for me. I don't know who the hell peed on that, that little stick will not fit in your file, and lastly...SOMEONE PEED ON THAT!

I have had a guy arrange the letter magnets on my filing cabinet (which I had so children had something to do while I spoke with their parents) to spell out "Call me you are cute". Really? Really? You have just told me your life story, I know all about your baby mama drama, the STD issue you are dealing with and the reason why you are applying for medical and frankly, if you can't afford food, you sure as hell can't afford to date me!

I have had one of the "regulars" aka one of the homeless in the area who would often come into the office and hang out in the lobby to get out of the rain, ask me if I would marry him. He was drunk off his ass, who even knows the last time he bathed, and all his worldly possessions where in the trashbag he lugged around with him. It was my first marriage proposal and I was quite touched. Unfortunately I had to turn him down. He then asked if he could at least just come home with me, to which I replied, "Sorry, I'm not allowed to bring strays home." His name was Richard. He let out a big belly laugh, sang me a quick song and then asked the woman working next to me if she would marry him.

Another time a co-worker had a client in her cubicle, but realized she needed to make a photocopy of his ID and social security card. She told him she would be right back and went to make a quick copy. When she returned to her desk, there he was sitting in the chair...MASTURBATING! Yeah, you heard right, masturbating. Who the FUCK does that! Who?! When she demanded he leave he said, "Wait, I'm not done." WHAT. THE. FUCK! He was quickly removed from the office, but still I would have had to take the rest of the day off, maybe even the week while my desk and work space were sterilized. And I firmly believe she should have received hazard pay.

But recently the laughs have become fewer and much farther between. We are currently in a hiring freeze and are down multiple workers. Our workloads have at least doubled due to the ecomony and the level of unemployment. There simply are not enough hours in the work week to meet the demands of the public. We are drowning. Workers are at the breaking point. And now our contract is coming due in July.

Negotiations are not pretty.

As state workers we have already conceeded to lower wages than the standard for our type of work in order to keep fully covered employer healthcare (as social service workers we have all seen medical bills completely ruin those who are un/underinsured). Part of that deal was that our healthcare was not up for negotiation. We have just been informed that everything, including our healthcare, is on the table for the upcoming bienium.

The current proposal offered by the State is this:

No cost of living increases
*So with inflation, I will be doing the same job for less money every year...and in all reality I will probably be expected to do even more than I am currently.

They want to take back the 10th Step increase that was allocated last time the contract was negotiated
*Anyone who received this step increase within the last two years will have it revoked and take a pay cut

Freeze all current step increases
*So in addition to not giving me a cost of living increase you are also going to take away my annual step increase of 5% (well that is if I haven't already maxed out at the 9th step). This also means that in addition to not receiving any step increase within the next two years, I would have to wait another full year almost for my hire date to roll around so I could receive the step increase. Three years without any increase in pay, not even a cost of living adjustment. But every year the minimum wage will increase and soon could surpass my monthly salary. We have already done step increase freezes and people are still trying to recupe from the last one.

And last but not least...Furloughs, the new F word. They want us to take 26 furlough days over the next 2 years, including 15 unpaid holidays and 11 other unpaid furlough days.
*This breaks down to 13 days a year, that is 2.5 work weeks without pay. We are already struggling to manage the demand we have now for social services and you want to force people to not work for 2.5 weeks? How is that going to work?

They are going to get their furloughs if they keep pushing. They are going to get them in the form of a picket line and that is the most terrifying thing of all. Who can really afford to strike?

It all just leaves a bad taste in my mouth (ok, not at this exact moment because I have a thin mint in my mouth, it's called "stess eating", but in general). This leaves all the workers who are on the front line, who see the people in desparate situations and hear their stories and know the feeble assistance they offer is not going to be enough, feeling unappreciated. We are not valued.

It increases the burnout rate and dissatisfaction of employees. It is why I am writing a blog instead of working. It is why I drink massive amounts of coffee everyday to counteract the lack of sleep I got the night before because I am so stressed I can't even relax enough for sleep. It leads to stress eating and self medicating with alcohol (and food in my case) and irritability at home with family.

I expect to be called every name in the book in the course of my job. I know I make people angry and I know I have to ask uncomfortable questions. I get it, a lot of the time I don't even blame people for calling me a bitch (or much worse). To them I am the icing on their shitty life cake and since I am there when they reach their last straw, I am the one who bears the brunt of their anger and frustration. But to be shit on by those who are supposed to support us...that is straw that is breaking this camel's back.


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