Friday, July 12, 2024

We Pay Their Salaries – So What?

By Stephen Vance, Editor

I received an email late last week from a reader who had plenty of nasty things to say about our members of council and our CAO.
As you can imagine, I get plenty of these messages from Meaford residents who are angry about everything from stray cats, to pot-holes, to concerns about municipal expenditures.

This particular email was peppered with expletives, and clearly the author was unhappy with what they considered to be less than stellar performance by our council and CAO.

Often complaints being made by readers are quite valid, and I understand the frustrations that they are expressing.

Where this writer lost me though, was with one little comment mid-way through their venom-laced diatribe.

“They need to remember that we pay their salaries,” wrote the angry reader, “They need to  listen to us.”

For the record, that is the PG-13 version of what they actually wrote.

Whenever I hear this argument, I immediately lose interest and instead focus on things like the leaves blowing in the wind outside my window, or the way that if caught in just the right light you can see dust particles floating in the air.

We pay their salaries?  Come on people, big deal.

It is quite common to hear people use the “we pay their salary” argument, but it just doesn’t mean anything.  The intent of such a comment is to remind everyone that because government workers – at any level of government – receive their paycheques from our tax dollars, that somehow they are on a lower rung of the social ladder, and should therefore bow down and worship us.

But here is what people so often forget – we pay everyone’s salaries, and everyone else pays ours.

If you buy stamps you are helping pay the salary of postal workers, if you buy groceries you are helping to pay the salaries of the store employees, the transport companies that deliver the food, processors, packagers, farmers, and so on.

If you rent The Bourne Identity you are helping to pay Matt Damon’s salary…does that mean he needs to kiss your rear end?

Those government workers and elected representatives that some people like to point out receive their income from us; well, they pay our salaries as well.  They shop at the stores we own or work at, they buy their insurance and renovate their homes using services from the very people who “paid their salaries.”

When will people figure out that we are all in this together, and government employees don’t need to be held to a special standard simply because WE pay their salaries? Every profession is held to some sort of standard, but for some reason, some people feel the need to remind everyone that we pay the salaries of government employees and elected representatives.

Sure, we have expectations of government workers, just like many people have expectations for whatever job it is that you do.

There are many arguments you can make about elected representatives, or government workers that I will listen to and possibly agree with, but when people toss out the “WE pay their salary” argument as if it is the ultimate reason that councillors or municipal workers should kiss our behinds, I tune out.

And yet most of the people who like to spout that they pay the salaries of government workers, don’t seem overly concerned that they also pay the salaries of Wal-Mart executives who have helped move millions of North American jobs overseas, or Monsanto executives who have hijacked the seeds for growing our food, or McDonald’s executives who have made a fortune by marketing unhealthy food to our children. 

Nope, none of that matters much, but gosh-darn it, that guy driving the snow plow – “I pay his damn salary so he should be on my street 45 seconds after the snow starts falling!” 

Or “the potholes in my road should be fixed right away and I expect a councillor to come and see it personally because I pay their damn salary.”  Give me a break.

When it comes to government workers or elected representatives, there are all sorts of things one can get annoyed about – as is the case with any other profession, but I have an issue with using the “we pay their salary” argument as the ultimate reason why we should despise them.

That isn’t a fair argument, and when you consider that 99 percent of government employees, municipal or otherwise, and 90 percent of elected representatives are average, wonderful people who are just trying to do their jobs and earn a living like the rest of us.  To paint all of them with the same brush using the salary argument, doesn’t respect the majority that do a fine job, and it doesn’t do anything to highlight those that might do a less than swell job.

If you have a valid complaint about the failings of government workers or those we elect, you don’t need to mention that you pay their salaries in order to support your argument.  If valid, your complaint is enough – and you might keep my interest.

For now though, I am going to get some coffee – so that I can pay someone else’s damn salary.


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