While I was sick, and sleeping a lot, my back hurt a little. It was no big deal. If you hack and cough around the clock your back muscles will get sore, too. But I also have chronic neck pain, going back many years, and Bernadette finally pressured me into seeing a chiropractor.
It was okay; the stuff he did to me didn't hurt, though it also didn't relieve my neck pain; and I was glad to get out of the house for the first time since going to work on Monday, even if I was so tired I went straight to bed when I got home. But it was interesting to fill out a form that asked me what activities I enjoyed in my free time.
What free time?
A lot of white collar employees in the private sector will tell you, though I may be an extreme example, that they bring work home with them, that it has gotten steadily worse since the 1980s, and that their salaries, worked out as hourly wages, show a much lower hourly rate now than in the 1980s because of all the "free work" that has by degrees become part of the job.
Blue collar workers in the private sector have had their own problems, chiefly the outsourcing of their work to contractors who are paid less. Companies in trouble develop heroic measures for surviving that inevitably play havoc with their employees' lives; then it's seen as a standard business practice and companies that aren't in trouble adopt the same behavior. No offense, pal, it's strictly business.
Well, we're used to it. We even accept, at least conditionally, that it may be necessary to keep America competitive in a global economy.
But this is why private sector citizens get so incredibly angry when they read in the paper about Manuel Castro, a Honolulu city government manager who took kickbacks from his workers for verifying overtime that they didn't actually work. Workers whose base pay came in a little above $40,000 were being paid more than $90,000 a year for work that wasn't actually being done.
Castro is going to jail and has to pay some restitution. But there is more to this scandal than one corrupt man. Civil Beat reports some employees of the city road maintenance division make more in overtime than in regular pay, including overtime claims which sometimes overlap each other. If this makes you think maybe Castro's own supervisor should be fired, too late: he retired on a pension.
Castro asked for a second chance, but it turned out that he had already used one up, having been sentenced to community service for robbery in 1987.
This is a small, close-knit community. We all know people who work for the counties, the city, the state. We know good people who don't put in for unworked overtime, who would never countenance it, even if "everybody does it," because they live by a code. We also know people who work for the government who think they work really, really hard, who have a lot more free time on the job than most of us do in the private sector.
Ask around: you'll hear it even from people who are married to government workers. That's because government workers who feel, perhaps correctly, that they do more than their part, still bring home stories about that oaf in the office who takes two-hour lunches every day.
In a booming economy this would still be an annoyance. In a recovering economy that is still a little wobbly on its feet, akamai government workers know this is not the year to be pressuring state lawmakers for any action on their own behalf that will lead to higher taxes on everyone else. And heaven help you if someone else like Manuel Castro comes to light during the session.