The Importance of
Putting Food on the Table Feelings
As I prepare for the first of a bunch of working Saturdays undertaken out of dire financial need, I bring the words of RI School for the Deaf Occupational Therapist Meg Denton with me to ponder:
Today I was determined to be a “nonessential” state employee. I was told that I am required to accept 12 working days throughout the year without pay. It’s not clear to me whether I am supposed to show up to work or not, but either way I will not be paid and I am labeled as nonessential. When I look up the opposite word, essential, in the dictionary, it uses words such as “indispensable,” “elemental,” “necessary.” This word “nonessential” implies that an employee is dispensable, not necessary, not really needed. This is a really awful feeling.
Yes, I’d be upset about losing quite a bit of money during these furlough days, but what really bothers me is the use of language to describe essential and nonessential employees. In these economic times, I think that the governor of Rhode Island could have been more thoughtful in his use of language. Everyone is essential and we all really need to feel that now. Could he not have used a less disrespectful way of putting it, such as “state employees required to take furlough days”?
Her fellow Rhode Islanders are unemployed, underemployed, losing their homes; they’re selling valuables, foregoing vacations, and trimming all disposable expenditures from their budgets; and Ms. Denton apparently has the emotional space to be offended by the governor’s use of a widely known and well understood personnel term.
Referring to budget documents online (PDF), it appears that Ms. Denton’s salary, this year, is $76,014, and the original request for 12 furlough days would bring her about $1,500 below her salary last year, of $74,160. (Let’s not forget, also, that the average benefits package in her school is worth $33,504.) Little wonder she has the liberty to whine about a word. How would she feel about “coddled.”