I am a public service worker. For the past 11 years, I have worked for the Ontario Government as a front-line court worker. I graduated from college on the Dean’s List with a Law Clerk diploma, have attended university studying several English and law programs and once done, applied, interviewed and accepted two contracts with the Ontario Government as a Court Clerk/Registrar and as a Certified Court Reporter. That was in 2004. They were jobs I loved – I still do. I loved the people I worked with, loved the field of work and the variety, loved helping people and loved the nature of the work. I met and dealt with people from all walks of life, with all kinds of issues and was a major part of many people’s life outcomes. I’ve been instrumental in sentencing many people over the years to serious jail terms, been witness to people truly being rehabilitated and saw things that would scare the average person. It’s not just anyone who can do what I do and see what I see. Serious trial matters, repeat offenders, scary people, circumstances that would make most cringe and at times, have gone home and cried because of such sensitive materials I’ve had to witness. Some days, I hug my kids tighter and, with each drive home, I harden a little bit more, grow my shell a little bit thicker and let the nasty, scary things that some people do, roll off me. I think front-line court workers have a tiny lock-box inside them all somewhere. This is where we tuck in the things that go bump in the night, which we sometimes see in the light of day. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all scary monsters – there are definitely highlights and moments that make me proud to be a part of the human race. People can change and they can excel, I’ve been witness to it several times this week already. That’s the glory of my job – both sides of the human spectrum are in the court room, and I’m so darn happy to have my job and be a part of someone’s bad luck turned good or questionable upbringing not define them, but spur them into positive action. A roller-coaster of emotion, I swear!
I’ve seen a high staff turn-around over the years. People either aren’t cut out for the nature of the job, find the “foot-in-the-door” opportunity they were looking for and move on, or can’t handle the contract work. Contract work. Yes, my dubious reader, Up until December of last year, three months ago, I was a contract worker, as are many of my co-workers still. Eleven years of 5 month-29 day contracts fulfilled. With those contracts comes the glory of no benefits, no paid vacation, no sick days, limited pension, no guaranteed hours and management’s right to at any time, any day, say “Sorry, there’s no work for you anymore”. Oh sure, I got ‘in lieu of’ pay, but when you work 2-3 days a week, 4% of not much equals to pretty much nothing when you figure it out. BUT, I was there for the Ontario Government to work 50 hour work weeks if needed (which I was happy to do because of the occasional overtime which kicked in only after working 36.25 hours, which didn’t matter if I worked 12 hours in a day, that wasn’t overtime, only if I worked 36.25 hours in that pay week), work weekend court (yes, there’s weekend court) and take any work they offered me, just to get a pay check some weeks. Because I loved my job. I never knew what would happen at the end of a contract, if it would be extended or if I wasn’t going to be needed anymore. If I came into work for 9:00 and my court finished at 11:00, I had to go home and only get paid for that 2 hours, because I was contract. I applied for full-time positions (the holy grail) and was never successful. After each interview, I would be told, “You’re getting there, keep applying and practicing your interview techniques”. Practice? Hmmmm. I’m pretty sure I’ve been a candidate at 15+ government interviews in my tenure with them. A full time position would be posted and myself, along with 20+ of my co-workers would apply, all of us salivating at the thought of guaranteed work, job security, all to live the dream. Yet, myself, along with those 20+ co-workers would get bypassed for the unattainable holy grail job and keep plugging away at our contract jobs. Because we ALL loved our jobs. Each year, we would get our merit increase, which equalled on average to around +.20 cents an hour and were happy to get it. We make more than minimum wage, but working on contract, if you work two days a week, that doesn’t equal to a lot of money.
Much to my surprise, I attained the unattainable in December of last year. I got a full time job with the government! I was ecstatic, over the moon, reduced to tears, wanting to shout it from the roof tops – “After 11 years, I’m a full-time government employee!”. And with that glorious new position, I lost all of my previous seniority because it was contract work and not any kind of permanent work, had to pay dearly for my benefits and was not allowed to work overtime – ever. Even if I’m in court and court is going long past 5:00, I have to email my supervisor for ‘approval’ (which is a moot point as far as I’m concerned, cause I’m not going to tell the Judge we have to close court because I can’t work overtime). So, my past 11 years with the government are washed away, but hey, I’m full time, so I should shut up, right? Would I give it up though to go back to contract? Of course I wouldn’t, but why did I have to think about the answer to that question first?
We are represented by a union. OPSEU is our coach in the corner, there after the rounds are done, to help us focus and try to make everything a fair and clean match. Unfortunately, us public service workers have been working without a contract since December 31, 2014. Talks have stalled and the employer – Ministry of the Attorney General; the Ontario Government – has said no to further bargaining. They say concessions have to be made and we have to give up a lot to get little. I say, I’ve given up a lot already. Private sector workers work don’t have it any easier, and some probably have it harder. This, I understand. But I’ve worked hard for my job and for my employer. The overspending by the Ontario (Wynne) government wasn’t as a result of overpaying me or my co-workers, giving us lavish wages or insane increases, offering us cushy offices, paying into my pension (which, after 11 years of paying into, I can retire in 2039 with $1200 a year so far), or hiring too many staff in my department. I provide excellent services in my field, as do many of my co-workers. Whether we’re private or public, that’s how we roll. Because we love our jobs. It wasn’t me or my co-workers who got a portion of the 8.2 billion dollars of overspending the Ontario (Wynne) government has been credited for. There are some, who I’m sure have benefitted from this insane dollar amount, but don’t paint us all with the same brush. According to the new Sunshine List, there’s thousands of Ontario Government workers who make over $100,000 a year. Does anyone seriously expect me or my court co-workers to be one of those people? Or the Probation Officer I work with? Or the Corrections Officer who guards inmates next door to the court house? I don’t think I’ve ever met (aside from management) a co-worker who made even close to that. I love my job. Not because of my pay, not because of the lack of job security, not because of the non-existent perks of being a front line court working government employee, but simply because I love my job. The stigma of a government employee from 25-30 years ago shouldn’t be what everyone still labels us with, because it simply isn’t true. I don’t want an 18% pay increase, as the higher ups have received, I don’t expect millions to be proffered into my sector, as have with certain government agencies, nor do I expect to get bonuses for the money I save the government (which is a redundant statement, but hey, it does happen). What I do expect is to work my work day, sometimes having tough days, coupled with good ones, work some long days, work through my problems with my co-workers, keep enjoying the rapport I have with the stakeholders of my organization, get paid a fair wage, maybe take a weeks holidays once in a while and retire when I’m 65 with a pension that allows me to afford a cute, one bedroom apartment to live out the rest of my days in. It’s a goal we as human beings all have, and one that we all deserve.
People are still going to say ALL government workers are overpaid and do nothing, but I could say all retail employees are all rude and ignorant and give no customer service because most of them are young and don’t care, or I could say, all miners are all booze drinking, dope smoking fools who aren’t safe underground and take too many risks, putting others in peril, or I could say, all bankers must make big bucks because they work with the big bucks, right? But it’s simply not true – none of it.
So, that’s my rant, long as it is. I don’t expect pity or compassion, simply understanding, and a wave when you see me on the picket line. 🙂