Op-Ed: Is It Outrageous that Texas Legislatures May Miss Paychecks?
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have sympathy for people who face the prospect of losing a job. I certainly did when I heard a full-time employee of the Texas Legislature discussing the prospect that he and his co-workers will stop receiving their paychecks on September 1. Both the state worker and the host seemed to agree that this was especially difficult, because the legislative employees are in the position they’re in, because of a political dispute between the governor and the legislature. That’s where they lost me. I have to ask, what world do these people live in?
I understand that many people view the legislature employees as innocent victims, caught in the middle of a situation they didn’t create. These same folks probably feel that politics shouldn’t cost someone a paycheck. However, in a free society, government is a political entity. Underlying this belief if that a government employee should never be in a position where they worry about where their next paycheck comes from. It’s asking us to divorce government work from reality, and I think we should all have a problem with that.
Most People Face the Prospect of Losing Their Jobs Because of Someone Else’s Stupid Decisions
Let’s take a step back and look at another industry for a moment. Around the world, tens of thousands of auto workers find themselves furloughed because of a global chip shortage. The lack of chips has a particularly harsh impact on auto -manufacturers, because they’re at the back of the line to have their orders fulfilled.
How did they end up at the back of the line? Last year, at the start of the pandemic, most automakers correctly predicted a decline in new car sales. To minimize costs, they cancelled many orders from their suppliers, including chipmakers. While this cost-saving move made sense in the abstract, automakers assumed that once they ramped up production, all of their suppliers would accommodate them.
This is a good bet for most parts, because the auto industry keeps the lights on for many suppliers. Chips, however, are a different ballgame. Cars use far fewer chips than cell phones, computers, and smart devices. Chip foundries didn’t play ball and bump automakers to the front of the line, so now, assembly lines sit idle. Car company executives stupidly misread the supply chain of a key component and workers now bear the cost of the poor decision.
Similar bad decisions exist at the hedge funds who found themselves caught up in the Gamestop fiasco a few months ago. Fund managers thought it a good idea to short sell more shares of the company than actually existed, then were badly burned in a short squeeze. As a result, at least one hedge fund closed its doors, letting its staff go. Outside of an employee’s non-performance, there exist few situations where a laid off employee didn’t find themselves in that position because of someone else’s bad decision.
Should Government Employees Be Immune From Political Fallout?
This isn’t the place to get into the the actual controversy between Governor Abbott and the Texas Legislature, but I’ve seen a few people suggest that Governor Abbott’s strategy essentially holds government employees hostage, in order to get Democrats in the legislature to do what he wants. If one reverses the same argument, then Democrats used the full-time legislative staff as human shields attempting to deflect potential repercussions for their walk-out.
When people can make legitimate arguments based solely on what political tribe they’re rooting for it strikes me as a topic that’s obviously political. While some may find it distasteful that non-political career employees might lose their paychecks because of feuding politicians, I urge those people to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
First, government employees are immune to pressures of the marketplace that private sector employees must contend with. No matter how poorly the government performs, it’s not going out of business. In fact, for years, the implied bargain of government work was that workers exchanged the greater pay and benefits found in the private sector for the security that comes with a government job.
Another thing to consider is that politicians cost people their jobs in the private sector all the time, without generating near the outrage that Governor Abbott’s actions did. For example, 10,000 workers lost their jobs when President Biden cancelled the Keystone Pipeline. There were some who found that decisions outrageous, but many more who cheered him on.
The point is that if the private sector, which is not inherently political, exposes workers to the potential of job loss via political dispute, why on earth would those pressures be any less when someone works for the a political organization like the government?
We Can Be Sympathetic to Government Employees Who May Lose Their Jobs Without Indulging The Unrighteous Outrage
It’s not callous to acknowledge the dread the people feel when they know at a certain point the future that the paychecks may run out. Given how many of us have experienced that situation, it’s only natural to be sympathetic to people who find themselves in such an anxious place.
At the same time, there is nothing more outrageous in the legislative employee’s predicament than any other time someone loses a job. A government job can eliminate many anxieties, but like the rest of us, no one is immune to politicians doing stupid things that cost people employment. That’s just life.
I certainly sympathize with the workers who lose a paycheck, but I cannot go along with any assertion that they endure something uniquely absurd or unjust.