Saturday, May 9, 2009

Playing for Change



Music. Sometimes the sounds are so powerful there are no words to describe them; the player's energy makes contact with the listener, ripping through to his very soul. Even the most hard-hearted can be moved to tears with no explanation. Playing for Change has managed to create a grassroots movement with musicians that have created this auditory strength, and I dare anyone to stand in its way.
Starting in Santa Monica, California, a street musician was recorded while playing "Stand by Me." The recording has literally gone around the world, and, at various stops, other musicians have added tracks.
The music alone is great, but when punctuated by the realization that these people have never met, are not famous, and simply displayed their talents on the street in an effort to create a single, harmonic tune to prove the world can work together in a way that is pleasing to everyone, the glass ceiling is shattered.
A number of songs have been created, and celebrities like Bono and Norman Lear are putting their efforts behind the movement, but the promotion is being fueled by social media. I'm adding a log to the fire and extending a torch. Visit the website, watch the video, and pass the flame.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

State employees face wage cut

I've been a bit discombobulated lately with trying to develop my personal marketing plan for potential job leads, teaching part-time at a community college, and resisting the urge to dive under my sheets and wish the world away. Still, I keep plugging away, fueled by the rewards of seeing students in my classes progress and grow in their quest for knowledge. It is in this endeavor where my current post has sprouted.

The issue
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has taken drastic action to help restore the state's ailing budget. Making a profound and obviously difficult decision, Perdue is recalling 0.5 percent of state employees' annual salaries. Every person employed by the state is affected, including school teachers, college professors, staff, faculty, and employees with various state agencies. Considering this half-percent cut totals $65 million, it's a small sacrifice on the part of state employees, yet a drop in the bucket when one considers the state is facing a $3 billion deficit.

Individual sacrifice
Theoretically, someone earning $40,000 a year, (certainly not me)would have $200 deducted from their paycheck(s) between now and June 30. The logistics have not been finalized, but this could mean $100 out of each paycheck in May and June or a one-time deduction from either check. If I were fortunate enough to make $40K annually, I probably wouldn't notice the deduction. However, for many people living paycheck to paycheck, the cut is going to bleed. In my case, the cut is only a few dollars and going from broke to broker isn't much of a stretch!

Hoo-rah!
I like Perdue, and her solution is innovative. Not since World War II have citizens of this country been encouraged to share the burden for an altruistic cause. Americans used to do without nylons, sugar, and meat and felt they were contributing to the cause by doing so. The pay cut, just like war rations, is not voluntary, but, with the right PR, Perdue could actually raise the spirits of state employees who are sacrificing individually for the benefit of the whole. (Insert "Old North State" music here).

NC vs. Feds
On the other hand, there are some problems with the enforced recall.
The federal government has issued incentives and stimuli - literally free money - for improving the economy, yet the state feels it is necessary to revoke hard-earned salaries. (Ok, it's not free, but it's immediate cash flow vs. Perdue's revocation of cash). Some might even consider Perdue's actions seccessional: the proverbial state spittle shot towards the federal eye.

Contract? What contract?
Many, if not all, educators, have contracts that specify their salaries. My contract, signed by the college's representative, states how much money I am to be paid per hour and the specific amount I will be paid each month. In turn, I signed the contract in agreement. Is it legal for Perdue to break the legally binding contracts made in good faith between schools and employees? If it is legal, should all contracted workers be leary of signing future contracts? The state solicits bids on various jobs such as highway paving and building projects. Through contractual agreement, the business is guaranteed the money; the state is guaranteed the work. If the governor can step in at any time and break the contract, what recourse is available? I can't imagine a paving contractor conceding to a post-contractual reduction! In no way am I suggesting a class-action lawsuit - the state has enough troubles. Yet, Perdue is, in essence, stealing from her employees which is not a way to win their loyalty.

Lottery fund - Kah-Ching!
Somewhere among the state's budget line items, are lottery receipts. Against focused protests, but to the delight of the residential majority, the state lottery was passed just a few years ago. Net profits are designated to benefit North Carolina's educational system. Like the lottery, the state's food tax was initiated in the '60s by former Gov. Terry Sanford, in an effort to raise money for education. Unfortunately, the additional tax dollars were quickly absorbed by the general budget and the designation long forgotten. Have our lottery funds gone the way of the food tax? What happened to the millions intended for additional educational funds? Perhaps, instead of providing additional educational dollars, the lottery proceeds are merely replacing the original educational budget which now may be diverted to other budget lines. Has the educational system really seen an increase? Shouldn't the lottery help prevent already under-paid teachers from suffering Perdue's sweeping salary recall?

Money comes and goes so quickly!
In recent months I lost a job at a municipally-funded non-profit agency. We saw years where no pay raise was available to us, yet the city employees whined because they only received a four or five percent raise. The most recent pay raise for this particular agency was a one-half percent annual pay increase, which would be administered as a one-percent increase over six months. Perdue's cut doesn't affect this agency, but if it did, these employees would see their meager raises taken away.

Accountability
Drastic times call for drastic measures, and it is time for Americans to pull together in a call to action. The rich are suffering while the poor are gouged to the bone. Over the years, I have paid numerous visits to state and municipal agencies and have dealt with a multitude of employees. I can name very few employees that have shown exemplary customer service, much less acted as though they appreciated their jobs. I also know that I am not the only one to complain about poor teacher performance or bad service from state employees. Perhaps these are the ones that should have holes cut in their pockets, or better yet, let the public vote on the ones who get to keep their cushy state jobs! If a can were placed next to every state employee, and the public were able to put votes into those cans, state employees would actually be held accountable to the tax payers that provide their salaries, Perdue would be off the hook, and state residents would have cause to rally together!

Fodder for Ewe
Unfortuately there are no simple solutions. If there were, we wouldn't be in this mess. The bottom line is written in red. We all are suffering financial woes and the economy is in baaaaaad shape. Still, there is hope, and, one-by-one, the flock can jump the hurdles ahead. As we shear our wool and head to market, remember the give and take required for a circular economy. We caaaan't be afraaaaid to spend, we must never hoaaaard, yet we should always, always, keep our eye out for the wolves dressed like ewe!