When I was a kid, I would watch the old 1950’s show, The Honeymooners. I remember one scene where the main characters, Ralph and Ed, were talking about future vocations for their children. Ralph spoke about his child going to college, while Ed said—if he had a boy—that he would get him a job working with him side by side in the sewer. At that point, the audience laughs and Ralph’s eyes bulge out. He yells that Ed is nuts for suggesting a career in the sewer.
Although parents and their children may not always agree, more often than not parents only want the best for their children. For example, it is not unusual for a parent to want their child to be a doctor or a lawyer because these occupations often offer prestige, autonomy and good pay. These occupations require an academic education rather than trade school. The 1967 film “The Graduate” comes to mind when Mr. McGuire says to Ben, “Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics. There is a great future in plastics.”
For many high school graduates, college may not be pursued. Like Ed in the Honeymooners, many in society are employed in vocations that use a trade and/or manual labor that is also mentally challenging.
Last week, the City Council approved spending money from sewer fees—not the general fund—to hire a private company for the next year to assist at the Water Pollution Control plant. These private contractors will be used to augment city staff and do tasks that current city employees will choose in the near future not to do. The contractor will also provide relief for city employees to take vacations.
In 2007, when I started on the council, I heard over and over again that the plant employees were predominantly baby boomers and that getting new staff would be a challenge. Why though? Is it not just like filling a job in any other organization?
This takes me back to the Honeymooners analogy. Out of the general population, not many people were pursuing working in the sewer system because society did not deem it a positive career. We do know that these positions require a learned skill set over time and the jobs pay well and it is literally lifetime employment.
The general public has become more interested in sewers with the connection to keeping our environment clean. I believe individuals may choose a previously overlooked vocation in the sewer system once they understand the salary and job security. However, this will not change in weeks or months; it will most likely take time to garner the skill set for senior positions.
As I have written before, there is an opportunity for veterans returning to the USA if they choose to obtain work with the city. Or, perhaps it is the chronic unemployed who get laid off during every economic downturn and want more stability. Perhaps a better use of an outside contract would go to a company to help the city set up an apprentice program, so people with entry-level skills could learn the ropes and all the positions are permanently filled.
In an organization like the city, which has thousands of employees, 11 unions and a litany of job titles, it is nearly impossible to pay certain positions more within a union because it requires negotiation. If one job classification has people who work in the Water Pollution Control Plant and also work in City Hall, the increased salary must go to both even though they are inherently two different jobs. In any other organization you could simply raise the salary of that specific job, but that is not the case in municipal government. This instead must be dealt with in the long, arduous and secretive meet-and-confer process with the union.
Issues like this one would seem to be an easy matter, where the discussion could be held in public so we could get to “yes” faster and allow everyone to understand the details easily.