Thursday, April 06, 2006

When the hero makes a windfall*

CWLP workers were hailed as heroes at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Their tireless work in returning power and safety to a city knocked-out by tornadoes earned them the cheers of adults and the adoration of children who rushed into the street to scavenge the candy that they threw. I believe they were throwing Tootsie Rolls, although they could have easily afforded to toss Godivas.

Like many, I was surprised to learn just how well the city’s public works employees were compensated for their heroics. According to a report in the SJ-R, some received an entire week’s pay for every day they worked, during a period that stretched out over eight to ten days. Not too shabby. Now that our power has returned, I can safely ask: In your estimation, does news of this bountiful payday diminish the valiance of their efforts?

I’m not naive to the ways of the union contract. They quite perfunctorily stipulate that should their members be asked to perform beyond the boundaries of their daily routine, the employer will pay and pay big. That’s why when I see a maintenance crew repairing a water main break in the evening hours, I don’t feel sympathy because they are missing the new episode of 24, I calculate that they’ll probably be able to buy a new flat screen television with all the overtime they are raking in. And I imagine that they don’t want my condolences anyway, as long as their paycheck shows the proper respects.

Of course the post-tornado labors were a whole different ballgame. People’s livelihood and well-being were dependent on the linemen** and street crews expeditiously restoring service and normalcy to the community. Some of these workers were probably pushed to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion. Yet every indication is that they were unflagging in their efforts.

Early on during the relief efforts, a city worker was interviewed on the radio. Perhaps sensitive to the perception that he was profiting handsomely from the malady, he made a point of saying that he would be out there doing what he was doing even if they weren’t paying him. I don’t doubt him, but I’m not ready to assign his noble sentiments to everybody who was working on the city’s double dime. Not even the laziest employee would call in sick or knock off early what with all that extra cash being dangled before them.

It seems to me that greatly exceeding expectations is a prerequisite of heroism. So if you accept a job as an electrical lineman, where does duty end and valor begin? And does it matter whether it is altruism that inspires you to go above and beyond the call of duty, or something more materialistic?

By asking these questions I’m deferring from making a strong stand on this issue. It is the privilege of the blogger to raise such matters and then leave it to the anonymous commenters to make the rash pronouncements. I don’t want to be the one to rain on CWLP’s parade.

But if I must take a stance, I will do so while straddling both sides. As a taxpayer, I do find the overtime wages excessive. As someone who doesn’t like to be rousted out of bed and sent outdoors, mid-catastrophe, to handle high voltage power lines, I don’t begrudge them their hazard pay.

Are they heroes? That’s a question best answered by someone not concerned with their electricity being mysteriously turned off should a printout of this blog post end up tacked upon a bulletin board in a CWLP break room.

*Title inspired by a minor hit from the Bangles

**I have friends who are linemen for the city, and they drive the mainroad, lookin’ in the sun for another overload. But they don’t, as the song suggests, seem to be particularly susceptible to lovelornness.


ThirtyWhat said...

Being from Springfield, I feel like I can weigh in on this ...

Heros? Well, my knee-jerk reaction is no, of course not.

Working for CWLP doesn't make you ... or ... does it?

That fateful Sunday evening when tornados ripped through town, I laid in bed until the third line of storms had finished going through ... listening to Jim Leach on WMAY constantly updating us on Springfield's condition.

I was terrified. I laid there, just waiting for the next round of sirens to go off ... and those guys were out in the storms trying to get a handle on the damage. They worked all night trying to get the power back up and running for most of us.

Does that make them heros? Considering there's NO amount of hazzard pay that could get ME out in those storms ... or on the top of a power pole EVEN on a bright sunny day ...

In retrospect ... maybe they are.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm....where did I read this:

"Like many, I didn’t get to bed on Sunday night. I was fortunate that instead of digging my family out of the twisted wreckage of a house, I spent the pre-dawn hours bailing out the overflowing cauldron that was my sump pit".

I would be willing to bet that about 6:00 a.m. Monday morning, the CWLP linemen were your heroes and that then you probably wouldn't have argued one iota about their triple-time pay.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...


You seem to have the same wavering feelings on this as I do (probably not heroes, but yeah maybe they are.) Good for you.

Let me ask you this? You mention that they do a job that you would never do because of its dangerousness, and that perhaps that makes them heroes. What about the guys who build skyscrapers and walk across I-beams hundreds of feet in the air? I'm guessing you wouldn't want that job either. So are they heroes?

Thanks for commenting,

BlogFreeSpringfield said...


At 6:00 Monday morning I was penning a letter to the Vatican, citing the linemen's performance as the first of two miracles required for canonization. But my sump pump is running effortlessly now which affords me a bit more perspective.

There is no doubt that they performed admirably in the tornado's aftermath. As I said, I don't begrudge them hazard pay (which to my calculations exceed triple-pay). But it is their job.

If you were stranded by the side of the highway with a flat tire during a storm and a state trooper pulled over to help you change it, you would feel awfully grateful. Does that mean the trooper deserves in excess of three times his pay for his efforts?

Again, when does duty end and valor begin?

Thanks for commenting,

UMRBlog said...

When I was in the military, I had a dangerous job. Technically, I was a volunteer. No one could order you to do this particular job. Sometimes we had to do it in inhospitable places (sometimes even in places where we weren't supposed to be). We got haz duty pay, remote assignment pay and hostile fire pay. The work was what the work was and the pay was what the pay was.

These folks took these jobs and bargained the pay. Management felt it was a decent bargain. Good public servents are not heroes. Mother Theresa maybe (although I always suspected she was really Chi-Chi Rodriguez in drag.) and "Doctors without borders" maybe. Some firemen and even the odd policeman maybe.

These are skilled public servants deserving of appreciation.

You guys think you could put out a little more pollution or something and get a thermal inversion going to protect you from the twisters and straight line winds of late? I'm afraid to even stop at Sam's for supplies!

BlogFreeSpringfield said...


I'm starting to think that asking "what is a hero?" is similar to asking "what is art?", both these subjects are too subjective and personal to ever hope to reach an agreed upon definition.

You take a humble view of your military service, but others might see it as heroic. So is heroism strictly in the eye of the beholder?

Thanks for commenting,

PS Thanks for the thermal inversion advice. Maybe Sam Cahnman can pick up on this if the open primary issue starts to lose steam before the general election.

ThirtyWhat said...

>>I would be willing to bet
>>that about 6:00 am Monday
>>morning, the CWLP linemen
>>were your heroes and that
>>then you probably wouldn't
>>have argued one iota about
>>their triple-time pay.

I don't know, guys. I really do waver on this. Do they deserve hazzard pay for the type of work they do? Sure, okay.

But does that make them a hero? In my humble opinion, providing a service that someone desparately wants and/or needs doesn't necessarily make someone a hero.

I mean, I would've sold my grandmother for a Mt. Dew this morning ... but does that make the clerk at Hucks a hero?

Hey Dan ... great blog, btw.

UMRBlog said...

Ah, Glasshoppah, now you see..

In the words of Hopalong Cassidy "How Long is a Chinaman?" but it becomes clear when you remove the Question mark and recall that he was describing Hao Long that there is no subjective. there is just a lack of glasshoppah understanding. It's all so simple.

Be the ball, Billy.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to suggest that the CWLP linemen were my heroes. Only the home owners who were up all night busting their buns bailing out the sump pits by hand. Your back had to be killing you. Not to rub it in, I had a generator.
Secondly, not only would I be grateful if a State Trooper changed my flat tire during a storm, I'd be flat out amazed. The first thing they teach a rookie officer at the academy is that a good police officer never gets wet!