The Sound And Fury Of Chris Christie
By Joe Lore (@DarthSpaceGrass)
My name is Joe. I run a small business in NJ that employs 23 Operating Engineers from Local 825. Governor Christie gave our company a tax break. While we are waiting for work, we will try to figure out what to do with it. In the meantime, enjoy this musing on the state of the worker in NJ:
I live in Essex County New Jersey, 3 miles from Newark in a small, middle class town. I own a home. I bought the home in 2008. Actually bought on the low end of the market and it was for a fair price considering the neighborhood. My property taxes have gone up over $2000 since 09. All signs point to them continuing to go up, and that is coming from my Board of Commissioners – not me speculating.
I work in highway construction. I am an HR Manager for a family construction firm in North Jersey that started in 1978. We provide sub-contractor services to roadway construction companies, environmental companies and construction projects. We employ, on season, twenty two operators, mechanics and office personnel. Off season, January through April, about 8.
From 1978 to 1996 – we had 8 employees.
From 1996 to 2003 we had an explosion in growth.
1996 to 1998, jumped to 11 employees on season.
1998 to 2001, we were at 16.
2001 to 2003, we hit 19 and tripled our fleet size and our overall operations in private work and off season work. At our peak in 2004 and 2005, we had 23 full time employees.
A minimum of 30% of our revenue is from Federal, State & Municipal work on roads, bridges, tunnels and airports.
I am constantly watching the trends of roadway & infrastructure spending in order for us to adequately prepare for the season. Hiring plans need to be made and schedules need to be set up regarding the overall size of projects scheduled. Usually, by this time of year, a number of bids have gone out and been awarded. Schedules are starting to emerge in the forms of contracts, job numbers, agreements and the customary trading of insurance certificates. At our height in 2005 – schedules were booked weeks in advance. It was not unusual to run 8-10 machines for 18 hours each, over the course of a 24 hour period utilizing 16-20 operators.
In 2006, it was just a blip – and 1% drop in revenue from the previous year. Easily chalked up to off-season or private jobs not being as robust. In 2007, it was a 5% drop. Kind of troubling, but still too early to tell. 2008 it was a full 10% as the markets crumbled. 15% in 09 and 20% last year. In fact last year 3 operators only came back for less than 45 full days.
A great deal of money was spent on projects during the second Clinton term which had initially
fueled our growth. All the major airports and county airports were upgraded as were their runways. Business was steadily picking up and by the time Bush took office we had tripled in size. After 9/11 spending remained high and plateaued in 2003.
Usually by March, a picture of the season is unfolding. A number of jobs are getting ready to start and we have a good idea on hiring, equipment & workload. So far this year, things look bleak. We are not seeing even average dollars being spent on roadway work.
Either Christie is planning on some capitalist fairies to fix our roads or he is just not going to invest in our infrastructure which means that the 20% we were off in FY2010 will drop by another 20% in FY2011. Last year we were unable to bring 3 Operating Engineers back. Early projections have us at possibly not bringing 5 back this year. At this point last year we had brought back 3 Operators. Right now we have 1 Operator on call and we have to fill two of his days with shop work.
This isn’t a competitive issue either. Our customers aren’t secretly using someone else. This business is a close knit community. We all know what each other is doing, who won what bid, who is on what project. I talk to three of my largest customers weekly. There is no work. There is no work on the horizon either. It is almost as if New Jersey has forgotten that it has all these roadways to maintain.
Tax breaks are not causing us to hire more operators.
The only thing that will save this state is infrastructure spending. Unfortunately, I think we are broke.
I don’t understand how tax breaks will cause us to hire more employees in turn increasing state tax revenues. All the work being performed in this part of the state right now is all part of the stimulus. When that runs out, we are going to be in deep shit. Whatever stimulus projects or money that was not yet spent, Christie deep six-ed. (ARC Tunnel?)
Road resurfacing employs many trades and many people. Roads need to be maintained for a number of reasons. More people die from poor road conditions than drunk driving. Road smoothness helps keep repair bills down thus extending the life of your car and can help contribute to fuel efficiency.
Governor Christie’s hands off approach after these last two winters is going to have lasting implications and it is going to cost us more in the long run. So much for not mortgaging our children’s future.
There is one more thing I haven’t mentioned about roadway re-surfacing. It’s public body work. Which means that it is governed by Department of Labor Prevailing Wage Laws. Most of this work is done by Union employees. Essentially, we as private contractors, have our rates overseen by the Department of Labor through negotiations with the Unions & the biggest employers of Union labor. The rates are readily available here. These are the rates that a private firm must pay its employees, regardless of union membership, when working a public body job.
What I find astounding is that the GOP and Mr. Christie keep asserting that public union workers make less than private workers. I implore you to find a public union, rank and file member that makes as much as the individual trades do. I bring this up because this is precisely why privatization will not work on a municipal or state level. It may work on a county level, depending on services and if there is proper oversight of certified payrolls.
But I digress, most public works employees and teachers work on a step payscale that starts with a base salary and goes up either by years of service or years of service plus educational level. For example, a Front End Loader Operator (minimum 5 yard capacity), makes $66.85 per hour. That breaks down to $41.02 per hour in straight wages and $25.83 in Fringe Benefits. Fringe Benefits serve two purposes. In a union setting, those benefits are broken down into various welfare and retirement benefits as well as supplemental unemployment insurance. In a non-union setting, that $25.83 must be paid to the operator as a straight cash payment so that the operator can use those funds to acquire his/her own welfare and retirement packages. Most DPW workers I know, don’t come close to that package. In fact, they all pretty much make the same depending on how long they have been there and to that end, most of those senior employees can’t compete in salary with a similar senior Operator working for a firm that does Public Body work.
Mind you – I haven’t even touched on the state of our Education system. Christie may leave NJ looking like an eastern bloc country by the end of his first term.
My wife, Syrena, is a school teacher in New Jersey. Or should I say, was a school teacher for a NJ High School. She didn’t get fired. She took a maternity leave after Christie took office. He froze her salary and threw in some extra fun stuff like cutting her salary indirectly by making her and others pay into a pension plan that is largely unfunded at this point. Over the course of her maternity leave, things became worse because she was denied Family Leave because she kept her part time job. In a panic, we decided to see if we would make it until September when she returned to work. To our astonishment, we were actually better off if she didn’t return to work. Below is straight from her blog, The Skeptical Woman.
My name is Syrena. I am a Teacher. I caused the economy of New Jersey to crumble.
I have a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and an MA in American Literature with an emphasis in Critical Race Theory from Montclair State University. I am a licensed, highly qualified, tenured teacher of English I have lectured at Montclair State University and the County College of Morris. Currently, I am an online instructor for the University of Phoenix where I teach distance- learning communication courses. I am a regular contributor for the Newark Examiner and a freelance writer for Demand Studios.
I never planned on being a high school teacher. In college and graduate school I planned to be a writer. Most graduate school students toy with the idea of pursuing a PhD. While I had the drive to do this, I did not have the financial ability to supplement five years of doctoral coursework. It’s not like a doctoral degree would make me a better writer.
When I finished graduate school, I wanted an income. I wanted security and healthcare. I was tired of working three part time jobs to fill in the gaps that my graduate stipend did not cover. I took the praxis and quickly got a job at a private girls high school. After four months I jumped ship at the opportunity to teach public school. I was employed at Wallington High School from February 2004 until March, 2011. I was hired to replace a teacher for retired mid-year. Although I taught college during my work as a graduate assistant, it did not prepare me for the demands of teaching high school.
I started my new job thirty days before the New Jersey High School Proficiency Assessment. Over the next five years, I would prepare hundreds of students for the HSPA and I would raise school scores almost 10% in five years to 90% in a district where 85% of all students speak English as a second language and Polish at home.
In addition to my responsibilities to prepare students for the HSPA, I taught four sections of eleventh grade American Literature and one section of twelfth grade Multi-Cultural Literature. I was responsible for regularly updating all curricula, maintaining weekly lesson plans, implementing technology in the classroom, and creating and updating vertically and horizontally articulated curriculum maps for all of my courses. I was expected to do most of this during my one preparation period, before work or after work in between grading thousands of essays. This was expected of all teachers.
Over these six years outside of the classroom, I ran the writers workshop for extra help in Language Arts. I was a class advisor for three years I coached the Academic Decathlon team,. In my final year I was also the building representative for the Wallington Education Association.
I did all of this for $51, 290 a year plus approximately $1,500.00 the advisor role and work with the union. (My first year of teaching I earned 36,000.00.) My online courses supplemented my income and made it easy for me to stay home during the summers.
Last year my district was in negotiations. Our salaries did not move. In addition, our union was working very hard to show our support for Corzine because we knew that, were Christie elected, our Collective Bargaining rights would soon disappear.
We had known for a while that our pension was already compromised. The first hit to teachers was having to pay 1.5% into our healthcare. Teaching is not a high paying profession. It is not even a profession where we are treated like professionals. Parents and many non-teachers treat us like lazy hacks that are in it for the comfortable schedules and the tenure.
What they don’t know is that with tenure comes a tremendous amount of responsibility and stress. I am not even in support of lifelong tenure. I believe it should be up for re-evaluation every 5-10 years because, like in any profession, there are people who take advantage of their stations. Teaching is one of the most stressful professions in the country.
Unlike most other professions, I am really not paid a livable wage. My class sizes are usually too large & I am not given enough time to prepare. What most teachers won’t tell you is that they are expected to take on additional responsibilities within the school structure. Teachers are expected to coach a sport, host a club, advise a class. Some of these responsibilities come with a small stipend while others do not. However, most teachers will take on these responsibilities in order to get or maintain tenure. All while most teachers have another job outside of their district.
Theoretically, social status is typically associated with your level of education. Your academic high-brows could argue that, technically, I am in a higher social status than my husband because I have more formal education than he. However, my husband with a high school diploma, twelve college credits, a Class B, CDL and a Certificate from tech school, makes more per hour than I do.
When my husband and I decided to have a baby we knew that I would extend my maternity leave to an unpaid leave of absence of the year. After that, we planned for daycare. We were surprised to learn that I was not approved for Family Leave benefits because of my part time job where I make roughly $1200.00 over nine weeks. Family Leave Act in NJ grants employed people in NJ 6 weeks of leave at 80% salary. This would have been enough to not cause us any serious financial harm. Not getting it was a serious hit to our finances. This immediate blow to our income in this dwindling economy made us re-run the numbers to see if we needed to bring in additional income as well as to see if I should cut my leave short and rush back to work.
We decided that I should not return to teaching. Between test preparation, discipline issues, and the stress from the demands of teaching in a public high school, paying for all my classroom decorations and ancillary supplies and teaching aides, The Chris Christie pay freeze, the 1.5% pension pay cut, the near $2,000/month for full time day care; it would have cost us money to return to teaching. I coupled this with the reality that I would hire a cleaning service to maintain my house, I would order dinner more often, and hire a landscaper. Additionally, I would give up my online teaching all in order to spend what little time I had after 4 P.M. with my infant daughter and family.
We came to a decision for me to resign together. I have been on his health care plan since the baby was born. We figured that with paying for daycare and all of the costs associated with me returning to work I would be taking home about $500.00 a week for 10 months is $20,000.00
If I did not return to work, became a “dependent,” and kept my part time job it would come out to the same amount of money in the long run.
In return we would be gaining the security and privilege of our infant daughter having a stay at home parent. My two step children would have someone at home in case of any emergencies, and I would take on the responsibility of running the household, a job which quickly falls by the wayside when two people work.
At first it seemed like an antiquated idea. I never thought I would be a stay at home mother. In fact, I am not a stay at home mother. I represent a new section of the population. I am a work from home mother. I have left public school teaching to re-tread my career. I am fortunate that my advanced degree gives me the chance to teach from other modalities – at an enormous pay cut.
We, like everyone else in New Jersey, will continue to struggle until our political climate changes. Until people can see that there is nothing wrong with being middle class and that you must vote to support the economic class you are in and not the class you want to be in, we will all continue to trudge through the muck of income injustice.