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September 2011, Week 1

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Tue, 6 Sep 2011 22:33:49 -0400
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$500 a month less ...
Daily Kos
Sept. 4, 2011
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/09/04/1011002/-$500-a-month-less-

Last week, public employees in the State of Wisconsin
received their first paychecks where additional funds
were taken out to pay for health and retirement
benefits. A good friend and classmate of mine is a
state employee, as is her husband. Below is her story.
Sally (the names have been changed to protect the
innocent) is a wonderful writer—we are both in the same
writing/communications program at the University of
Wisconsin. Her words will tell this story and I will
leave some commentary to frame the issues. This week I
got a pay cut for doing a good job. I am one of the
thousands of state employees who have been affected by
Governor Walker’s budget bill. I know that state
workers have a better situation than many others out
there, and I know I am fortunate, but it still feels
like I’m being punished for a crime I didn’t commit. My
husband works at the same organization, so we’re both
getting hit. Between the two of us, we will be taking
home $500 less a month. That’s Five. Hundred. Dollars.
What would happen to your family if you took home
$6,000 less a year?

How many of us could absorb a $500 a month pay cut? I
know I could not.

Because of this pay cut, everyday living will erode our
rainy day fund. We’re already frugal. We already don’t
vacation. We already aren’t able to afford repairs and
maintenance for our home. We take home-packed lunches,
ride share, and rarely eat out. We don’t even have
cable. If we weren’t already always careful...if we had
kids...if we were to have one big emergency...we’d be
cooked. I wonder how many people this moves to the one
paycheck from disaster category. People who never
thought they would be in this position.

I work in my organization as a department associate.
Basically, that means I have all the responsibilities
of running the department office without a fancy title
or decent salary. I’ve been working in this job for a
little over two years, but have worked for this
organization for four years.  I spend my days solving
people’s problems, dealing with everything from
life-threatening medical emergencies to requests for
office supplies. Last year I only supported one person,
but my boss retired, and the duties were split between
three people,  Now I have triple the number of people
who I directly support—along with any request, question
or emergency that walks through my door. This happens
in both the private sector and the public sector these
days. Job responsibilities increase—yet pay stays the
same or, in the case of Wisconsin workers, decreases.

My bachelor’s degree is in communication. I worked as a
marketing professional for fifteen years before being
laid off. I took the state job exam and landed a
permanent position after working six months as a
limited term employee (temp). Because of my experience,
30% of my job duties entail communication tasks. I am
halfway through a master’s degree in communication. It
is not unusual for people in a similar level position
to have advanced degrees—and still be working an office
job. It’s a classic case of being over-educated and
underemployed. Taking a lower wage was worth it because
the benefits made up for the lack of pay. Not anymore.
This is the case of many people in public service. They
were willing to take lower pay for better benefits and
to have the ability to help people in our state by
providing essential services.

I belong to the support staff union (WSEU) which is a
part of AFSCME. I grew up in a union household. My dad
helped form a union at a company where he was laid
off—because he was promoted to management and wasn’t
covered by the union. My mom was the union steward for
her organization for many years. She fought tooth and
nail for people to be treated decently and to earn a
fair wage. When people are stripped of more than 10% of
their take home pay in one fell swoop, it makes it seem
as if my parents fought for nothing.

According to the Census Bureau, there are 56,957 state
and local workers in Wisconsin.  We’re looking at more
than $20,000,000 in disposable income vanishing all at
once. Taking that much spending power away is going to
hurt every single community around the state. It might
look like savings, but it’s just making every business
in every town take a hit and vilifying state workers in
the process. Emphasis mine. The point Sally makes in
her last paragraph is an important one that shows how
shortsighted Scott Walker's austerity measures really
are. You cannot take $20,000,000 out of the economy and
expect lollipops, sugar plums and rainbow fairies to
boost spending. This will have a detrimental impact on
Wisconsin's economy.

I have very little hope for the state system. I am
already looking for other jobs out in the corporate
world where I can get paid twice as much as I do in my
present job. With as little incentive as state jobs now
provide, all of us overeducated underemployed people
are going to be back out on the market. And we’re going
to have the competitive edge. I admire Sally's
optimism; however, with the unemployment rate being
what it is I do not know how successful she will be in
moving back into the private sector with the job market
being in shambles and now with even more consumer
demand being taken out of the mix due to government
austerity measures.

I close with this: Ask yourself, what would you do if
you had your income cut by $500 a month?

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