Friday, March 22, 2013

Birthday activities and news

Yesterday was my birthday, number 55.  A quick calculation yields the fact that I have been alive for a bit over 20,000 days.  Considering that one or two days is such a small fraction of the overall 20,000, it is important to keep one's perspective at the events of any one day, knowing the number of days that have preceded and the number of days to follow. 

That being said, I decided a few weeks ago to continue my recently revived tradition of not working on my birthday.   In fact, I decided to not work at the liquor store on my birthday and today, and to not work tonight at my 2nd job.  My hope was to get some things done that I have had to put off. 

As is true of most plans, I didn't really get anything done that I wanted.  Other priorities trumped my plans, including driving my son 2 hours each way to his girlfriends house so they can return to college together, filing our 2012 federal tax return, walking the dog, and having a nice take home dinner and movie with my wife and son.  As always in life, we must be flexible to changes.

Unfortunately, the bad news that I have received during these two days, the news that will challenge my ability to change, is that my job will most likely be eliminated soon.  As a state worker, my employment is subject to our elected officials, and those public servants are in the process of taking Pennsylvania out of the wine and spirits business. 

I would like to think that this decision, which effects me so personally, would make me just as unhappy as a taxpayer, and a concerned citizen for our decreasing access to good paying middle class jobs.  Certainly, when our elected officials make decision that effect us directly, we are more involved, more informed.  But I believe that my past blogs discussing the slow decline of the American middle class, would have spurred me to compose this blog, perhaps with a bit less urgency, but composed none-the-less.

So, why am I against the government getting out of the liquor business?  Certainly, I am aware of the problems that exist in the current PLCB system.  But they do not seem any different than those I have encountered in my past jobs in the private sector.  Mistakes are made, inefficiencies are revealed, decisions are made to address those problems and solutions are put into place.  In the end, I expect that, just as a private business is evaluated on its profit margin, level of customer satisfaction, employee loyalty, advancement opportunities, etc, so might the PLCB have been evaluated. 

Profit?  Every year $75-100 million is returned to the state coffers in profit.

Customer satisfaction?  The vast majority of my customers express their gratitude for the assistance they receive at my store, from choosing the appropriate libation to finding an item I do not stock at a neighboring store 

Employee loyalty?  It is not even worth comparing the turnover rate at the PLCB when compared to most retail businesses.  I have worked with dozens of people with 25 or more years of experience, something you will not see at your local pharmacy or department store.  That loyalty is also reflected in the low theft rate, a rate that most retail outlets would die for.  Of course, that is what happens when you pay your employees a decent wage.

Advancement opportunities?  After working 20 years part time, I went full time 3 years ago and am now a manager at a store.

Anyone not familiar with the PLCB might now ask, why change it then if it works so well?  One answer comes from those who believe that the government does not belong in the regulation and sale of any item.  That the selling would best be accomplished via the free market system.  I can't say that I can argue against that concept.  For the most part, the free enterprise system works well and if we were starting from scratch, I would be on board.  But in this case, we have a system in place that works.  A few thousand Pennsylvanians have a good salary with good benefits while working for an organization that generates a profit for the state.  It seems like change for the sake of change.

My other answer as to why change, the one that will sound cynical and conspiratorial is that the private sector forces at work to make this change are only interested in the profit that they currently don't have, and those politicans who are voting for the change are expecting their own share of that profit or have already received large "donations" to vote in this fashion.   Obviously, other than a well groomed sense of cynicism when it comes to big business buying legislators, I have no direct proof, yet.  But, as the details are released, as the licenses are sold, it will be curios to see how many are gobbled up by corporations and businesses that have a strong presence in the halls of Harrisburg.

For my part, I will continue to work hard at my store and root out the details of this privatization plan.  Perhaps I will be proven wrong and myself or some of my fellow PLCB employees will get a shot at a license and ownership of a store.  Sadly though, I know that in the end, many of those people whom I have worked with over the years will be out of work, or worse, doing the same job with lower compensation and less benefits for a business or company that values its profit over their well-being and loyalty.

Still, I am ever hopeful that humans will continue to evolve towards an understanding that might does not make right, that making millions of dollars does not make one rich, and that leaving the world a better place, regardless of the scope of one's world, is the point of this life.


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