I have worked as a letter carrier since November 1992.
Since then, we’ve had four government shutdowns at the federal level.
Despite that, all work I’ve performed and all annual and sick leave I’ve taken has been paid to me in a timely manner. That is to say, every two weeks.
You see, the United States Postal Service is off-budget, meaning its spending and receipts are “walled off” from the rest of the budget. You pay my salary when you mail a letter or send a package through the USPS. Taxes pay no part of a postal employee’s salary, nor have they since 1982.
But many federal workers aren’t so lucky. When government shutdowns occur, they don’t get paid. Some of them are furloughed, meaning that they stay home and don’t get paid until the shutdown ends. Others are forced to work-and don’t get paid-until the shutdown ends. And these are people who impact our lives in very direct ways. They screen our luggage at airports. They make sure planes don’t crash into each other. They inspect our food so that it doesn’t poison us. They process our tax returns. They patrol our borders. They protect our nation-I’m referring here to the Coast Guard.
And it doesn’t help matters when members of the Trump Administration show callous disregard for their plight. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated that for the life of him, he couldn’t understand why an unpaid fed just couldn’t walk into a bank and get a loan. Well, Mr. Ross, not everyone is worth $700 million like you are! Or the suggestion by White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett that furloughed employees are better off sitting at home because they aren’t using vacation time. Many of you watched on the news reports of unpaid feds using their free time to line up at food banks or apply for unemployment benefits/food stamps. Can someone explain to me how forcing a federal employee to seek assistance is a family value? I mean, I thought we, as Latter-day Saints, were supposed to be opposed to able-bodied adults living off the government dole.
Unfortunately, there are those who feel that working for the government and being on welfare are one and the same. The Daily Caller (https://dailycaller.com/2019/01/14/smoke-out-resistance/) quotes a senior Trump Administration official as stating the following in regard to federal employees: For federal agencies which were on shutdown, “lock the doors, sell the furniture, and cut them down.”
“For the sake of our nation, I hope [the shutdown] lasts a very long time, till the government is changed and can never return to its previous form.” “On an average day. . 80 percent [of government employees] feel no pressure to produce results. If they don’t feel like doing what they are told, they don’t.” “They do nothing that warrants punishment and nothing of external value. That is their workday: errands for the sake of errands. . .” (in order words, all we do is make-work stuff) “Due to the lack of funding, many federal agencies are now operating more effectively from the top down on a fraction of their workforce, with only select essential personnel serving national security tasks.” (I guess this applies to unpaid employees who worked during the shutdown, such as members of the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard) “The goal in government is to do nothing.” “We do not want most employees to return, because we are working better without them.” “Sure, we empathize with families making tough financial decisions, like mine, and just like private citizens who have to find other work and bring competitive value every day, while paying more than a third of their salary in federal taxes.” How touching. And stated with all the charm of a freight train.
Conservative hostility toward public servants is hardly new. Following the postal strike of 1970, which brought postal employees into the middle class and off government assistance-yes, most letter carriers of that era qualified for food stamps-it seems that the air traffic controllers talked of striking as well. According to the April 2, 1970 diary entry of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon had some choice words for them, “The air controllers problem goes on, and the plan now is to fire a bunch of them, especially after postal settlement, to prove government employees can’t win by striking. Theory is that the mailman is a family friend, so you can’t hurt him, but no one knows the air traffic man. Also they make a lot more money, hence invoke a lot less public sympathy.” And Tricky Dick was proven right. When Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981, whose union ironically endorsed him, over sixty percent of Americans agreed with his action, whereas over eighty percent sympathized with letter carriers during the postal strike. Easier to fire people when you don’t know them.
Recently I heard a radio talk show host complain about how much teachers make in California. He said that the average total compensation for them is roughly $85,000 a year, which is $20,000 more that what teachers make in other states. Keep in mind that “total compensation” includes health care premiums, life insurance, Medicare, pension payments, etc., so the job is not as high-paying as he made it out to be. And his point was that unions represent teachers in the Golden State, so that is why they are living high off the hog. Allow me to retort, which I have done before on his talk show. California is an expensive state to live in, so wouldn’t you want a teacher to be able to live on his or her salary and sustain a family? And his complaint was simply this. Teachers in California, for the most part, make enough to live on, support a family, and enjoy a sizable pension when they retire. What’s wrong with that?
From the federal government down to the municipal level, we read on a regular basis negative comment after negative comment made about public sector workers which mimic the comments stated above. We are overpaid, lazy, insubordinate, unnecessary, unwanted. Federal employees are tired of being labeled as parasites, sucking taxpayer money out and John/Molly Q Taxpayer getting nothing of value in return? The notion that government functions better when taxes are cut so low so as to cover a skeleton crew to do the work is a fantasy. Ask travelers stuck in lines at our airports due to lack of screeners, or immigration judges overwhelmed by too many cases which take too much time to be adjudicated, if at all, or border patrol agents who lack the technology or staffing to properly do their jobs. And the people who perform government work should be paid well for what they do. And we should never be ashamed of being a public servant or think for one minute that we don’t deserve our pay and benefits. We do valuable work, and most Americans agree. It shouldn’t take a government shutdown for people to appreciate what public servants do when the work isn’t being done.
Eric Ellis is the California State Association of Letter Carriers District 4 Officer