I imagine it might be difficult for non-government employees to understand the true scale and impact of what is happening right now with the furlough and I certainly don’t have the capacity to encompass the grandness of it with my words, but that won’t stop me from trying.
800,000 Furloughed Employees. It’s a number so massive that its intangible to the mind so allow me to try and present a visual. The University of Michigan football stadium seats just above 100,000 people, here’s what it looks like when it’s full:
You can fill this stadium 8 times over with furloughed government employees.
Now here is the stadium, empty.
This represents how many people are vacant from their jobs of providing public service, eight times over.
It seems that the standard media stories discuss the same few agencies that are feeling the effects but here is an info graph showing all the departments that are affected.
If you follow this link you can find additional info graphs that will break things down even more.
So, what is public service anyway?
Merriam Webster’s Definition of Public service:
1: A service rendered in the public interest
2: Governmental employment. especially: CIVIL SERVICE
The point of public services is that they are universally needed. You know, by the public.
It may become problematic when those services aren’t being provided nationwide. Some might find it interesting to put focus on the fact that a vast majority of wildland firefighters is amongst the 800,000 furloughed employees waiting to go back to work.
The US government (via The US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, US Fish and Wildlife Service, etc.) employs the majority of wildland firefighters nationwide with State, contracted crews, volunteers, and incarcerated crews making up the remainder.
I’d say that stopping wildfires is a pretty important form of public service. Perhaps you might be thinking, “Well it’s wintertime so it doesn’t really matter.” To which I would say this:
The winter and spring months are when firefighters train and prepare for the upcoming fire season. It’s a barrage of mandatory annual meetings and required fire training refreshers. It’s the time of year when firefighters order equipment, get vehicles serviced and attend training courses in order to maintain or increase their qualifications; training courses that some firefighters try for multiple years in a row to attend due to limited availability. It’s also the time when prescribed burning and fire fuel reduction happens.
These aren’t things that can just be put off. Schedules are tight and then fire season starts. Postponing training for two months means that somewhere around 80% of the firefighters slotted to attend those classes will no longer be available because they’ll be in the middle of training with their individual fire crews or be out fighting fires. Which is essentially a moot point because many of the trainings are being canceled rather than postponed.
This furlough is all fun and games until wildfires start kicking up and communities are insufficiently protected because firefighters are stuck waiting for human resources to process their paperwork. It won’t be funny then. But the thing is; it’s not funny now either.
This isn’t a way to treat civil servants of any kind. I’m sure the folks who’ve been furloughed over at NASA have the capacity to make much more money in the private industry but they work for NASA because they believe in the mission.
I suspect the TSA employees who are amongst those being asked to work without pay are feeling that insult is being added to injury. Let’s just stop and think about that for a minute. Imagine that you are the employee in this scenario…
Employer: Listen, I’m going to need you to come to work and continue doing your job but I won’t be paying you for an undetermined amount of time.
Employee: Why would I do that?
Employer: Because I asked you to. We’ve got some financial issues at the moment and we’re not sure when they will be resolved, so just keep coming to work until we figure it out okay?!
Employee: How long are we talking about here? A few days, a week?
Employer: What’s with all the questions? Don’t you have a sense of duty? Just come to work, it’ll all be figured out eventually.
Employee: So none of us are getting paid then right? We’re all in this thing together?
Employer: *–Insert Cricket Sounds Here–*
How is this acceptable?
Hold on I just need to climb up onto my soapbox a moment… Okay, here we go.
Societally, I’m not sure what is happening here. Have we collectively gone so far off the rails that folks are completely apathetic to how many people are being adversely affected by something so completely ridiculous as a government-spending bill? Blue-collar workers are having their paychecks withheld until somebody wins the most high stakes and idiotic staring contest of our time.
Someone, please explain to me, why there was even a vote to determine whether or not furloughed government employees should get back pay? (That’s a rhetorical question don’t answer that) I could understand a vote to decide whether or not those employees should get a bonus for:
A) Not quitting their government job in lieu of stable employment and…
B) Dealing with the incredibly disastrous outcome that will be the end result of thousands of workers having been forced off of the job for a prolonged amount of time and…
C) Months of frantically trying to smooth everything out and…
D) Figuring out how to pay unemployment money back, if government employees needed to utilize it during the furlough (after they eventually receive back pay, who knows when) and…
E) This is the big one… enduring the financial strain and completely avoidable stress put on each and every furloughed (or forced to work with no pay) employee and their families due to an inability for politicians to compromise.
Yes, I’d be all for a vote about awarding bonuses, but back pay should not even be in question. How much should the bonuses be, $1,000 per person? Sounds slightly below adequate in my opinion but it’s better than nothing, which is the actual reality.
There are government employees who were in the middle of retiring and are now essentially stuck in purgatory. There are employees who’ve been hired at new duty locations and are halfway through the moving (cross-country, not just down the block) process but cannot complete it because of the shutdown. There are newborn babies who’ve been unable to be added to the insurance plans of their parents because the furlough prevented human resources from processing paperwork.
Furloughed employees still have to pay mortgages/rent, car payments, insurance, childcare costs, buy groceries, fill their gas tanks, etc. The expenses don’t stop just because the paycheck did.
For those who might assume that government employees earn higher wages than the private industry here’s something to take note of. An entry-level wildland firefighter gets hired at a GS-3 wage. –see wage scale below- The base wage of a GS-3 is $11.04/hour. Wildland firefighters have died on their very first fire dispatch making $11.04 an hour. Let that sink in.While the majority of federal jobs are not as dangerous as wildland firefighting many have varying levels of danger including the US Military, Border Patrol, and the US Coast Guard (a multi-faceted branch of the military) among others.
Regardless, the point is that most government employees are certainly not raking in the cash hand over fist to be public servants; they do it because there is a sense of duty and purpose.
For those who are especially unlucky, both earners in the household work for the government, which means there is zero income coming in.
Full disclosure: I myself am counted amongst this group of fortunate souls, but with a unique twist. One of us is a government employee while the other is a former government employee, turned small business owner/government contractor. There is no reprieve for the government contractors either. If your business is to do business with the government, more than likely, you’re currently out of business. Clearly, this “partial government shutdown” has a ripple effect far beyond what is being highlighted.
I’m nearly ready to step down off of my soapbox but I’ve got one last point to discuss. It’s the main reason that I feel so fired up (you may have noticed) right now as I write this post, and it’s divisiveness.
The level of divisiveness in this country at the moment is so profound that people are filling themselves up with anger and hate then spewing it at whoever disagrees with their opinion or point of view. I feel as if I’m floating in a sea of negative energy and it’s exhausting to deflect it, nonetheless engage in a debate and I’m sick of it, it has officially become the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me.
If you think about it, human beings probably have about 85% of things in common so why spend all your time and energy pointing out things that you disagree with others on? Why not talk about the weather, toothbrushes, refrigerator magnets, shoestrings, or recipes for guacamole rather than which political party you align with? Any of those previously mentioned topics are much more interesting I assure you. I’m not advocating for people to stop paying attention, in fact, I’m recommending the opposite. There is a difference between getting involved to progress change and simply dumping opinions on one another. I think we can all recognize that the latter has been getting us nowhere.
What do you say we stop drawing lines in the sand and thrusting people on one side or the other? It’s about setting ego aside and recognizing that it takes people on all sides to make a balance that best reflects the people, not the politicians. We can agree to disagree and figure out how to work together toward a common goal. How about we start with this furlough? Politicians have made their problem our problem so perhaps they need to hear more noise from the public (feel free to send them this blog post!) to realize that this furlough is completely devaluing the very people who’ve dedicated their careers to public service.
I’m hopeful that the furlough has at least highlighted some of the work going on around us that is so easy to take for granted. To all the public servants far and wide, whether or not you have been affected by the furlough, thank you for your service.
For posts related to Wildland Firefighting click here.