Public employees in Kansas are facing a serious crisis when it comes to the state budget and state economy. Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies in the Legislature have crafted bills that gut vital services and compromise working conditions for employees. Juanita Beck, who has been a state employee since 2010, is seeing firsthand the results of these destructive policies.
“We are facing a severe shortage of staff,” says Beck. In addition to the shortage of correctional officers, there is inadequate training and a lack of proper equipment. On any given day, there are three officers in a unit of 200-plus inmates, and those officers are being asked to buy their own safety equipment, such as stab-proof vests.
“It all adds up to a dangerous situation,” continues Beck. “Our budget is cut to the bone. Officers are burned out and stressed. We can’t replace our staffing pool because there is no incentive to stay. It’s a huge quagmire.
“It used to be that public employees could work and care for their families and retire with a decent pension,” says Beck. “But it’s not that way anymore. It’s as if the state legislators have forgotten their infrastructure.”
Now, Gov. Brownback and his fellow GOP lawmakers are trying to take away the union rights of Kansas public employees by proposing legislation that allows these employees to bargain only over minimum salaries and wages. The workplace rights that enable them to speak out for high-quality education, healthcare, and public services could be taken away.
“Our collective bargaining agreement was made to protect the rights of the employer and the workers,” Beck notes. “Without it, everything is one-sided. Our bargaining rights are fundamental to who we are.”