COMMENTARY: Are They Really "Non-Essential"?
Storms like Hurricane Floyd always prompt the joke about state government in
Connecticut when they induce the governor to make a grand announcement about
his sending home early or even calling off the whole workday for what are
called "non-essential" state employees.
People on the taxpaying end of government, as opposed to the payroll side,
can't help but wonder what might happen if all those "non-essential" state
employees just stayed home indefinitely and took the hint to find jobs where
they might be considered more "essential."
And even some of those "non-essential" state employees feel a little guilty on
their way home, as if they are taking advantage.
But despite the joke, of course government employees aren't the only ones to
be sent home early in bad weather. Private businesses often dismiss their
people early or call off work entirely too, even if they don't always pay
their employees for missed work as the state does and don't use the tax system
to make everybody else pay for anyone's "non-essential" work.
The "non-essential" joke probably has gotten tiresome even among anarchists,
and continuing it is needlessly disparaging. For those state employees whose
work is curtailed by bad weather don't have to be called that; they could be
called employees outside public health and safety.
Sure, Connecticut could live for a while without, say, the clerks at the Motor
Vehicles Department -- but not once your car was stolen. Or without the
inspectors at the Department of Environmental Protection -- until the river
downstream from the chemical plant began turning colors. Or without the
hearing officers at the Labor Department -- as long as companies never cheated
their workers out of their wages.
No, eventually many if not most state employees outside public health and
safety are essential to the common good in some way too. And as for those who
are not, the big joke is not on them but on their employers, the public, for
not seeing that their elected officials, the governor and state legislators,
do something about it.
(Chris Powell is managing editor of The Journal Inquirer in Manchester.)