Like many families, our Thanksgiving tradition is to go around the table before we eat and each say what we are thankful for. Each other, our friends, good health, music, amazing food and laughter inevitably top the list. My son added J.K. Rowling to his list this year. Traditions are an essential part of the glue that binds us as 'families', and as Americans, in an otherwise chaotic, over scheduled and stressed out world.
Traditions, like the three decades-long granting of an extended Thanksgiving holiday for public servants, are worth fighting for. This year, Governor Corzine broke with the tradition honored by his gubernatorial predecessors, Democrats and Republicans alike, and did not grant his employees off on the day after Thanksgiving. The Governor's action has made national news and touched a nerve in the public discourse.
The anger pouring through the phone lines last week, to the tune of nearly 6,000 calls to the Governor's office, isn't simply about a lost day to spend time with children who are home from school or with kids back from college for the weekend. That anger, seething just below the surface in our state workforce, is about being fed up with yet another rebuke of public employees from the public and this time from the boss himself. And rightly so.
State workers and judicial workers work hard. That's the bottom line truth. Nobody seems to want to hear that or to believe it. Public workers, at every level of government in this state, are dedicated, educated, committed, talented people who have chosen to forgo higher salaries in the private sector in exchange for the ability to make a difference and have a measure of security.
DYFS caseworkers who, at their personal peril, brave dangerous neighborhoods without protection to knock on a stranger's door to protect our most at-risk children deserve our respect and thanks. Nuclear engineers who monitor the safety of our state's nuclear power plants deserve our respect and thanks. Health department professionals who screen newborns for life threatening disease and follow up on their care deserve our respect and thanks. There are thousands and thousands of examples of public workers whose work and extraordinary caring make our State great and every single one of them deserves the public's esteem and thanks.
Demonizing public workers, as the press and politicians do far too often in New Jersey, is wrong and unfair. The perpetual scapegoating is a feeble and low road attempt to pit one group of working people against another rather than taking a hard look at the endemic corruption and complex failures of our economic system and find real solutions.
There are good policy reasons for shutting the state and courts for the four-day Thanksgiving weekend ahead, including promoting family-friendly values, the reality that the courts are in recess and operational savings on energy costs among others. Most county governments and many local governments are doing so by closing offices as a sign of respect and thanks to their workers, and to promote a family-oriented holiday weekend.
According to Stateline.org, a website covering state governments nationwide, "Corzine’s move cuts against the grain of data showing that U.S. employers are getting a little more generous with company time this Thanksgiving. A recent survey by the Bureau of National Affairs found that 78 percent of private and public employers will give workers off both Thursday and Friday, the highest percentage since it started tracking the issue in 1980."
But there is another even better reason for this Governor to honor the tradition of Governors past. That is to stand up for your state and judicial employees and send them the clear message that they are respected and valued. And to loudly proclaim that their boss, by honoring tradition, honors them.
This blog was written for and also appears at www.njvoices.com