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How To Fire State Workers

New York State, whose government has been completely dysfunctional for the past half-century, is looking to shrink its huge state work force.  Too few workers have taken an offer of early retirement, so the state is planning on laying off at least 2,000 of them.  That sounds like a lot until you discover they have about 131,000 official state workers and 163,000 other workers, including contractors who have often been hired to do the work state workers won’t.

It’s only a guess, but based on my direct observation it would be possible to fire at least 40% of them with no impact on state services.  Here’s a simple four step plan that will do it quickly and easily.

  1. Grow some balls.  Great big ones.  This step is necessary to implement step 4.
  2. Make unannounced visits to every office of every state agency.  Carefully note who is playing solitaire, doing crossword puzzles, reading the newspaper or Harlequin romances, playing lotto scratch-offs, etc.  Record their names.
  3. Make a second unannounced visit on a different day, at a different time of the day, and repeat step 2.
  4. Compare the two lists of names.  Call in everyone who is on both lists and fire them, immediately.

Step four is going to piss off the union, which is why step one is so vital.

I’ve worked as a contractor in state offices and seen, first hand, some of the most amazing goofing off.  Sure, everyone goofs off once in a while (which is why my plan incorporates two visits instead of one) but some of these people have raised it to an art form.  If they were eliminated from the work force the state would save a substantial amount of taxpayer money with no adverse effects.

The amount of goofing off varies widely from agency to agency and between departments in the same agency.  I’ve been places where there just about everyone was working (or at least looking busy) and others where half the staff were goofing off.  (Sadly, one of the busiest offices, where I observed virtually no goofing off, was the Department of Taxation.)  In general, in my very unscientific estimation, 25-50% of the people in most state offices are just using up oxygen.

Even in agencies with very high goof off rates there are still a lot of people working. They don’t have to, because the union makes it virtually impossible to get rid of anyone, but they want to, and do. Not excessively hard, because promotions are based on seniority and test taking ability instead of merit, but sill, they put in a good day’s work.  These are the first people to leave on their own, out of frustration, or get laid off, because of seniority.  The goof-offs, despite all their whining and bitching (yet another way they pass the time) know they’ve got a good thing going and are not about to leave.

In one instance I was hired as part of a team to image and install 50 computers, a job that should take two people two to three weeks.  The state hired four of us on a six month contract.  We were being paid about 50% more than the prevailing wage for that type of work, and were hired by an outside agency, which was also getting a substantial cut.

We worked as slowly as possible, but still got the job done in a week and a half.  Then we discovered the real reason we were hired.  We were there to do the help desk’s jobs.  The help desk was fully staffed, but very few people there were actually working.  At least, not for the state.   One was working on building his Amway down-line.  Another was concentrating on turning his band into The Next Big Thing.  One was trying to master Othello at the highest computer level. All were being paid by taxpayer dollars, and so were we.  NY was paying their “workers,” and us, and our agency, to do the job that their workers should have been doing in the first place.

One day I need to do some hardware repairs but had forgotten my tools at home.  I borrowed a set from someone at the help desk.  They were pristine, without the slightest bit of wear on any of them.

Because the number of actual workers varies dramatically among different agencies, and because I don’t know what all these people are being paid, I can’t say with any certainty just how much this will save.  But it’s a good bet that at least 25% of the work force in most agencies, and up to 50% in some, can be let go without anyone noticing except the nearby vendors who sell coffee, paperbacks and lotto tickets.  It would be at least several billion dollars, and that’s a yearly savings, not just a one shot deal.  And all it takes is for the state to grow big enough balls to stand up to the union.

Which means, of course, that it will never happen.

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  1. Oct 5, 2010: from Squeeze That Stone, Of Course There’s Blood In It « Ancel De Lambert

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