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What shared sacrifice?

October 19, 2011
By Joanne Bilodeau-Clement

"Shared sacrifice" is nothing more than a political catchphrase. To most of us it means a commitment, by all involved, to give something up. The expectation is that the "give-back" will be equitable. Where is the equity? Our leadership infused our struggling economy with billion-dollar corporate financial firm bailouts that its citizenry will have to pay back for decades. The loss of manufacturing jobs has led to the largest trade deficit in our history.

According to a paper released by the United States Financial Crisis Commission in 2011, the crisis could have been avoided. Policy makers failed to overhaul regulatory controls to protect the system. Market-based controls were ineffectual to stave off the onslaught of financial shocks to it. Systematic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels, the reckless actions of financial firms, international trade imbalance, high-risk actions by Wall Street and excessive consumer spending, according to the experts, brought the system to its current state.

So when we talk about "shared sacrifice," shouldn't it be proportionate to the amount of causation of each party? In other words, if financial firms are largely to blame, then shouldn't they sacrifice the most? Unfortunately, many of the firms who performed unethical practices have not sacrificed their profits, executive bonuses or salaries. The key policy holders who failed to be proactive and reduce the shock to the economic system in a timely manner, did they lose their jobs? Of course not.

Were reductions in state budgets, pork-belly programs, high-cost consultants, etc. done proactively? Once again, policy makers failed to act in time. So now we are deep into one of the worst financial crises of all time. Who is being asked to sacrifice the most? 30.8 percent of the 19,387,102 (2010 Census Bureau count) people who make up the work force.

My husband worked for a factory for 23 years and watched the number of employees dwindle over three years prior to its closing. Their jobs were sent overseas where wages are low and benefits are nonexistent. All in the name of maximizing profits and cutting costs. Now he works for the state. There are few job opportunities here. Sometimes it's not a choice but rather a lack of job alternatives that lead to state employment.

My fellow workers told me that at one point our agency had approximately 650 people. Through changes in policies, procedures, attrition and merging, we are down to around 200. Now we are at a critical juncture. We cannot afford to lose any more staff, or we will not able to fulfill our core mission.

Industry is doing to foreign workers what it did to us in the '50s. The job pay scale and any benefits today's private corporate employees enjoy are the direct result of unionization of America's work force. We need someone to speak for us, or we risk losing ground we have gained. We have become a "me"-centered society. It's the quest for newer and better that led to consumer overspending. It's time we faced the harsh reality of today's fiscal nightmare and dig in for the rocky road ahead. Our sacrifice is disproportionate when compared to the lack of sacrifice by financial firms and other market-driven entities. Historically, the working class has born the brunt of reckless corporate decision making and unethical practice.

Why did Public Employees Federation members vote no to the first contract? Was it simply greed or an emotional response to ther term "sacrifice." For single-parent families, loss of wages and increased health care costs are not affordable. For some long-term employees, they cannot "do the right thing" and leave in order to make room for the younger workers to stay. They have either not reached 55 or still have time to go to complete 20 or 30 years of service. If they leave now, their retirement pay will not be sufficient. In the Office of Real Property Tax Services, many of the people I know left private industry and joined the state work force after they reached 40.

For others, according to Times Union blogs, they voted no because of the "iron fist" approach used by Governor Cuomo. Or they are overwhelmed by the incredible sacrifices already made by family and friends, or the fact that so few financial firms or Wall Street or the wealthy are being asked to sacrifice some of the huge profits they made. Few are even brought to justice.

I am appealing to those who voted to "no" to reconsider your vote in the next contract offering. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the alternative is devastating to 3,500 people and their families. There is no guarantee to prevent further layoffs. By voting no, the next layoff could be you. Instead, save your fight for another day or the next contract.

We must all bear some of the responsibility. It's time we set things straight. We should pull together now and demand regulatory changes that will ensure accountability and efficiency at all levels of government and in private industry. Social-service programs, once a shining star, due to insufficient controls are prone to abuse. Take a look at the today's newspaper and read about the newest fraud allegations. Albany County Legislator Wanda Willingham's husband, accused of defrauding social services. She is chairwoman of the Legislature's Social Services Committee. Now that's irony.

The 30.8 percent of us in the work force more than do our share to provide for our families and those who are retired, too young to work or have never worked. We support them through existing unemployment, disability and social-service programs. The working class can no longer afford to bear the brunt of uncontrolled spending by elected officials while we make unrealistic "sacrifices."

When you laugh or say it's OK for state employees to lose their jobs because you think things are going to get better for you, think again.


Joanne Bilodeau-Clement lives in Tupper Lake and is a homeowner, taxpayer, voter, state worker, PEF member and wife of a Civil Service Employees Association member.



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