After listening to people in various careers, I’ve found that the most abused and underrated professions are those connected with public service. People who work in law enforcement, fire prevention, medicine and education are underpaid, overworked, and taken for granted. Without the benefit of these professionals we would be less likely to live our lives with relative safety, the benefit of education and the good health most of us possess. However, when it comes to salaries, working conditions and public support for the people in these fields, very little is given without long, com- plicated labor disputes. Many people would deny even the chance for them to take a stand for the rights they deserve for fear their walkout would endanger the public welfare. I agree that when people in these professions call for a strike hospitals go haywire, criminals are freer to roam and kids miss important weeks of class work. But striking may be the only way for these people to draw attention to their low wages, poor working conditions and lack of public support; and they should have the right to do so. Low wages are obviously the priority issue discussed when contracts are up for renewal and one of the basic reasons for calling a strike.
Even though most union officials often seem to go overboard in their demands, it may be a necessary tactic used to wake up the administrators who never want to give even the basic cost-of-living raise. While teachers and nurses are called “professionals” and spend years of time and money to train for these positions, when it comes to dollars and cents, their paychecks never come close to what other professionals receive. Police and firemen leave their houses every day unsure they’ll make it home uninjured – if they make it back at all – but their salaries hardly reflect the risk they take to chase criminals or fight fires. Money, however, is only one of the major issues public workers take with them to the bargaining table. Working conditions, especially for medical support personnel and educators, are always a reason for voting to strike when demands are not met during contract discussions For example, many teachers spend a great deal of time in old school buildings (full of flaking asbestos) with inefficient heating systems creating a rather frigid atmosphere for learning.
Children sit in classrooms dressed in coats, hats and gloves reading textbooks dating back to the 1960’s. From their vantage point, teachers notice the peeling paint, broken chairs and children with problems they can’t begin to tackle. Obviously, without the proper tools with which to teach in an atmosphere of decay or the proper placement for children needing individual attention, the job of teaching becomes frustrating and even futile, and creates a growing apathy towards the children and the profession in general. Another example is the nurse or nursing assistant who has just completed a twelve hour shift and has been told she must stay through the next because so and so called in sick. According to a close friend who is an L.P.N., this kind of request is nothing unusual and refusal to work the extra time can cause stomach ulcers quicker than if she stays and works without protest.
The guy who scrubs the hospital corridors works under better conditions; and while sanitation is important in a hospital, he’ll never have to read bottles of medication or cardiac monitors through half-shut eyes. Lack of public support is another factor forcing these professionals to strike. So taken for granted are our public service workers that many of them receive far more complaints than compliments for their daily work. A fire fighter called in the middle of the night with only moments notice is on his way to save a burning building. Reaching his destination, he grabs an ax and breaks a window to gain entrance to the property and put out the fire. Two days later the fire company receives a nasty letter complaining about the broken window.
Lack of support for the police officer may even be felt from within the law enforcement system. The policeman who arrests a person for robbery or rape is constantly faced with the court’s decision to let the offender out on bail or completely free to repeat the crime for which he was originally arrested. Again, frustration and apathy are sure to give way to poor self-esteem and a growing desperation caused by lack of caring and support by the public. People who teach, work to make our environment safe and those who help to keep us healthy are our support personnel. Although they are trained professionals working to make our lives richer, we take them for granted and leave them little choice but to let us know what life would be like if they were not here at all.