Sunday, September 18, 2005

Civil Service Civility

I'm thinking real hard about applying for a new job. And some people think I'm nuts for considering it. Lemme explain:

Most know I'm a dispatcher for the local Sheriff's department. A couple of recently formed cities in our county have, since their incorporation, had contracts with the Sheriff's department to provide law-enforcement service to the incorporated areas. For whatever reasons, these cities have decided to terminate their contracts with the Sheriff's department and form independent, local police departments. This, of course, means the cities will likely need to build and staff their own communications centers, and hire dispatchers.

Well, since I live in one of these cities, it seems natural to me that I take a look at what the local police would offer, compared with the Sheriff I now work for. I live, literally, 3 minutes from the police station where the new communications center will be built.

On the surface, it seems the new police department's package would be on par, and in several ways better, than my current package: Enhanced retirement; no Social Security participation (means I can invest that portion of my check in my own IRA or deferred comp account); 3-day, 36-hour work week (12 hour shifts, 4 days off a week); several other items that just make it work taking a look.

Here's what surprises me though: every person at work I've talked to about this states as their very first objection: "But they're not union. You won't have civil-service protection. They can fire you whenever they want."

The second objection: "They work on merit pay, not the civil service steps. You don't get a raise unless someone likes you."

That's not quite how merit pay works, there are regular raises, but to all this I say....

Yeah... and?

If you don't suck at your job, or screw around, you won't get fired. If you do a good job, you will get raises. If you do a fantastic job, you might be recognized for it, and maybe given a bigger raise.

Three-quarters of Americans go to work every day under this concept, and most of them do just fine.

The union/civil-service attitude just boggles my mind and, sadly, belies the entitlement mentality and union-bred stagnation that permeates our civil service system.

Unions are a great thing, don't get me wrong. Worker protection and labor regulation would have never occurred in this country without the union movement. Civil-service protections grew out of labor union agreements and legislation that made many union protections into law. In some industries, union assistance is still a valuable asset. For law-enforcement officers, I wouldn't do the job without it, because STUFF HAPPENS in the field that is often beyond the officer's control, and they sometimes need heavy hitters to go to bat for them in court or wherever.

But if you suck at your job, your boss should be able to fire you. Period.

There is no logical reason I can see for forcing an employer to keep a less-than-desirable employee on their payroll. And, if you don't suck at your job, you shouldn't have any worries about your ability to KEEP your job, as long as there's a job for you to do.

The union/civil service system, in my opinion, stifles competition, innovation, and productivity.

If you are a fantastic brick layer and lay 100 bricks and hour, and your co-worker lays only 45 bricks and hour, yet you both get the same paycheck at the end of the day, where's the incentive to keep laying 100 bricks an hour?

Or, say you come up with a way to mix the cement faster so that it sets better, and increases everyone's productivity. How does the boss recognize that innovation? A certificate? Looks good on the wall, but you can't feed the kids with a certificate. Can't buy a bigger car, or a better television with a certificate.

What if a new shift becomes available, and you want to try to get some different days off? Will your certificate help prove to your boss that you deserve and have earned the days off? Nope, sorry... seniority only. So, the 45-brick-an-hour worker who's been with the company for 20 years gets the cushy days off while you, the 100-brick-an-hour worker with just 19 years in, loses out.

So, why should anyone break their back working hard and turning out a superior product if there is no gain in it? Yes, personal dignity and pride does come into the equation for many people; that's why you DO have a few high-performers in civil-service. My point is they should be rewarded for their hard work.

Without competition and reward, the quality of work on the job begins to sink toward the lowest common denominator - doing only what it takes to get by.

So, I'm actually looking forward to applying for a position that will challenge me. Someplace I can make a difference, and yes, be recognized for it. I'm not a greedy man, but when I work hard and do over and above what's needed, your darn right I like to be rewarded for it - we all do!

That's what makes it worth taking the risk to try new things, and to think outside the box. If there's no reward, no pay-off for taking risk, why take the risk at all?

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