orangemike (orangemike) wrote,


When Scott Walker dropped out of the presidential race, an out-of-state friend e-mailed me "I bet YOU'RE happy!"

I responded, "My concern is that, like an abusive spouse returning from an unsuccessful business trip, he will come back to Wisconsin and beat us up some more, doubling-down on his attacks on almost every non-millionaire Wisconsinite, especially those of us with the gall to work for the public or to have unions or (shudder!) both, while shouting the management equivalent of, 'You lazy bitch! Look what you made me do!'." I knew there was already a bill to cut back state pensions, and to make it harder to retire from state service early, even with a vastly diminished pension.

Sure enough, within days of Walker's humbling, his legislative allies announced a package of what they have the gall to call "recruitment and retention reforms" which would undo over a century of actual civil service reforms. The system of impartial civil service examinations tailored to the jobs being filled would be abandoned in favor of a system of resume gathering, overtly modelled on what many experts agree is the most broken part of American corporate hiring practices. Resume-based hiring, aside from the obvious ("we want clerical candidates with a Ph.D., tri-lingual, and willing to start at $13.50/hour"), is famously subject to the prejudices and antipathies of human resource departments, as well as to plain old-fashioned corruption, nepotism and cronyism.

Robert Kiefert, who once ran civil service testing for the State of Wisconsin, recently wrote, "The merit system of civil service was, and is, one of the few ways those of us who came from poorer and less connected backgrounds could scratch our way to the top based upon what we knew not who we knew." I told him, "Robert, that's the problem: civil service exams have allowed too many of us undesirables into employment: wrong color, wrong shape, wrong school, wrong social class, wrong church, wrong politics, wrong tailor..." It is no accident that for many decades, ambitious immigrants, people from working-class backgrounds, and minorities in general have found civil service, with its system of impartial exams, a path to upward mobility. That (in the eyes of many Walker allies) is the problem; they want a system more hospitable to the job-hungry but marginally competent sons and daughters of their campaign backers, the legacy kids who look good on paper but couldn't pass a rigorous exam that was not about high-end clothing and upscale brand names; and the kids who went to the right schools (expensive or conservative Christian or both). Positions would be filled from existing resumes on file, with no way for those not in the know to become candidates (fewer unworthy and "outsider" types to introduce new ideas or different thoughts). Walker has spoken with disdain about a short-order cook who did well enough on the civil service exam that he had to be interviewed for a financial examiner position: how dare a peasant aim so high! I myself knew at least one short-order cook who had a Ph.D. from Harvard in economics (he went short silver when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the market, and lost everything).

In the name of "reform", employees would be held hostage for a two-year probation period, during which they could be fired at will, although if new hires are deemed "exemplary" enough management might waive the second year of probation.

Existing employees would no longer have any seniority protection from being dumped into the street if their jobs are eliminated or turned into additional patronage slots; and the process of discipline and discharge would be streamlined to make it easier to fire existing workers (making it harder to defend yourself against accusations or find representation; no sense allowing those sinister public workers the rights guaranteed accused murderers or embezzlers, right?).

As to the other "reforms": cutting back on the possibility of early retirement at diminished payment, to take care of an aging parent or spouse or just get out of Walkerstan? That's just chaining us to our desks or forcing us to quit state service entirely. It does nothing to strengthen the already-ironclad state investment funds, quite possibly the nation's soundest (Walker has recently lied, trying to claim credit for their condition). The other provision of THAT bill, of course, simply cuts back on the pension payments for public workers, with no justification whatsoever save that they believe they can do it (just as the legislature chose last year to double the out-of-pocket costs for public workers' health insurance, apparently to punish us for not quitting already, by making it harder to see a doctor or fill a prescription with what's left of our paychecks after five years of slashing).

When Act 10 was illegally railroaded through the legislature (with the collusion of the worst state supreme court money can buy), workers were assured unions weren't needed to protect us because the civil service system would continue. That has now been shown up for just another Walker lie.

Oh, and one of their excuses? The state is losing many of its most experienced workers. Competent managers in real-life businesses (the kind Scott Walker has never worked for in his entire career) know that recruiting and retaining quality staff is accomplished by respect, honesty, good working conditions, and yes, adequate compensation, with a chance for advancement. Instead, we state workers get the latest in a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably a design to reduce us under absolute despotism, while Walker and cronies shout, "What's wrong with you lazy, greedy, uppity bastards; don't you understand we respect and appreciate our hard-working, dedicated employees?" Ah, yes; the beatings will continue until morale improves, or more likely until we're all dead or driven out in favor of Walker clones and party-line drones, to the detriment of the citizens of the once-proud State of Wisconsin.

-- Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey is a clerical worker for the State of Wisconsin, and President of Local 91, Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME; this essay originally appeared in his magazine Bemusements of a Visible Fan for mailing #372 of the Milwaukee Amateur Press Association

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