September 19, 2009

The Importance of Putting Food on the Table Feelings

Justin Katz

As I prepare for the first of a bunch of working Saturdays undertaken out of dire financial need, I bring the words of RI School for the Deaf Occupational Therapist Meg Denton with me to ponder:

Today I was determined to be a "nonessential" state employee. I was told that I am required to accept 12 working days throughout the year without pay. It's not clear to me whether I am supposed to show up to work or not, but either way I will not be paid and I am labeled as nonessential. When I look up the opposite word, essential, in the dictionary, it uses words such as "indispensable," "elemental," "necessary." This word "nonessential" implies that an employee is dispensable, not necessary, not really needed. This is a really awful feeling.

Yes, I'd be upset about losing quite a bit of money during these furlough days, but what really bothers me is the use of language to describe essential and nonessential employees. In these economic times, I think that the governor of Rhode Island could have been more thoughtful in his use of language. Everyone is essential and we all really need to feel that now. Could he not have used a less disrespectful way of putting it, such as "state employees required to take furlough days"?

Her fellow Rhode Islanders are unemployed, underemployed, losing their homes; they're selling valuables, foregoing vacations, and trimming all disposable expenditures from their budgets; and Ms. Denton apparently has the emotional space to be offended by the governor's use of a widely known and well understood personnel term.

Referring to budget documents online (PDF), it appears that Ms. Denton's salary, this year, is $76,014, and the original request for 12 furlough days would bring her about $1,500 below her salary last year, of $74,160. (Let's not forget, also, that the average benefits package in her school is worth $33,504.) Little wonder she has the liberty to whine about a word. How would she feel about "coddled."

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You don't have to be too old to remember when the federal government shut down for a couple of weeks in the 90's. The thing is, hardly anyone noticed.

And yes Ms. Denton, the terms "essential" and "non-essential" were used then.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at September 19, 2009 7:24 AM

Justin it seems as though you also have plenty of time to seek out and over analyze the words if everyone else. And then to write overly wordy ponderously boring statements about others .

Posted by: Slippy at September 19, 2009 7:44 AM

... um, yeah, as Warrington said, these terms were invented long before this governor.

Though they work a shorter week that the public sector, most state workers are hard working. At the same time, they are well paid. And, as Justin pointed out, they still have jobs.

I'm trying but it's really, really difficult to work up much sympathy for Ms. Denton under these circumstances, especially as her complaint - that the Governor is creating terms so as to hurt peoples feelings - is completely unfactual. In fact, downright silly, upon further reflection.

Posted by: Monique at September 19, 2009 7:55 AM

Its not like state workers get days such as VJ Day, MLK Day, Columbus Day, and a slew of other non-important holidays in which the are payed in full. The are experts in days off, they just want to be paid well for it. Poor Ms.Denton and her 76k a year, lets cry about being called "nonessential". All these years i thought an occupational therapist was vital in making our state run effectively, how can we function without one! Anyways,yeah pretty funny. In response to Warrington Faust, the federal government shutdown may not have been noticed here but many PRIVATE sector employees during that time lost their work elsewhere the beltway/dc metro. Many average citizens lost there job due to Newt's shutdown,you dont realize how many private jobs are directly related to working for the federal govt. or in relation to it. Didn't want to talk federal shutdown because its wildly more complex and different but i figured since you mentioned it I would respond. There is a reason Newt eventually had to back down from it and walk away with egg on his face, if the shutdown didn't have an effect what would have caused him to do so?

Posted by: steadman at September 19, 2009 10:56 AM

You shouldn't deride the position of occupational therapist, Steadman - it is important for children with special needs to receive this service. However, Ms. Denton's prose does come across as a bit whiny. She is certainly in a better position than most people are right now. $1,500 less a year means that maybe you forgo that trip to Vegas or decide against the new tv. Other people are certainly in much worse circumstances, facing the loss of a home or trying to decide whether to pay the utility bills or buy food. She should be glad that her salary shields her from such hardships. And no, the governor did not invent the terms "essential" and "non-essential"; they are widely used and accepted terms. I can understand how she might feel upset. As a fellow person in the education field, I can attest to the fact that education is often considered less important than it really is. Ultimately, though, she should be glad that the worst she is suffering during these hard times are some hurt feelings and possibly having to go another year with the old tv.

Posted by: Tabetha at September 19, 2009 11:38 AM

Another comment. I used to know a therapist who worked in a supervisory capacity for the Massachusetts government. She makes about 15K less than Ms. Denton. When I last asked the one I know, she thought she made a little more than twice what a similar job in the private sector would pay.

So, my heart isn't broken.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at September 19, 2009 2:53 PM

$76k, unbelievable benefits, recession proof ...all for minimal hours worked and she's whining?

Is there any wonder why so many people have disdain for public sector employees?

Posted by: George Elbow at September 19, 2009 8:21 PM

Hey Slippy,
You wrote "Justin it seems as though you also have plenty of time to seek out and over analyze the words if everyone else. And then to write overly wordy ponderously boring statements about others ." It's called being accurate and knowing about what your talking about. I realize that some consider it too much trouble to do research and back their words up with facts. Just keep attacking people when you can't prove their facts are wrong.

Posted by: Chris at September 19, 2009 8:37 PM

I would think a follow-up question or action (ie. check her time card) might have been to see whether Ms. Denton showed up to work during a big snow day when the Governor said all non-essential state employees should stay home. Did she show up to work that day? If she didn't, then didn't she first call herself "non-essential"? Wouldn't she then just by a hypocrite?

Posted by: Patrick at September 21, 2009 7:47 AM
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