The State Worker

Jon Ortiz: Joy Behar flap a lesson in state workers’ frustration

Two talk show hosts mocking a Miss America contestant became the snark heard round the world last week. Nurses got mad. Advertisers yanked ads. Eventually “The View” co-hosts Joy Behar and Michelle Collins apologized.

The backlash revealed what happens when you pick a professional scab borne by thousands of people who believe their work is absolutely vital – and absolutely unappreciated.

In that way, the nurses have a lot in common with California state employees.

In case you missed it, Behar and Collins ridiculed Miss Colorado, Kelley Johnson, for wearing her nurse scrubs during the talent portion of the pageant. Johnson, 22, shared a story about one of her patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Why does she have a doctor’s stethoscope on?” a bewildered Behar asked as she watched a clip.

“She helps patients with Alzheimer’s, which I know is not funny,” Collins explained, “but I swear you had to see it.”

Soon #nursesunite was trending on Twitter. Social media blew up with photos of nurses in their scrubs, stethoscopes around their necks. Comments blasted “The View,” Behar and Collins and affirmed nurses’ important role in the nation’s medical system.

“It’s time to correct these tired, condescending and wildly inaccurate views of what it is to be a nurse,” the California Nurses Association posted on its Facebook page. “Not just on ‘The View,’ but throughout the mainstream media.”

Take out “nurse,” insert “state worker,” and you begin to understand the frustrations of so many government employees, said J.J. Jelincic, a 30-year CalPERS investment officer and union activist who sits on the retirement fund’s board.

From their point of view, politicians scapegoat them, he said, the public and the press don’t understand them, and their work goes unnoticed unless something goes haywire. And many state employees are regulators, which means they’re “in the business of telling people ‘no,’ ” Jelincic said.

“Everybody likes clean water, but people don’t like someone telling them they can’t dump waste in the river,” he added. “State workers are the people who say, ‘It’s not all about you, it’s about we.’ ”

And of course, taxes and fees compensate government employees, so they’re public servants. Paradoxically, they are the instruments of entities with power to deny freedom, confiscate wealth and pry into personal information. Generally, if you’re upset with government, a government employee has to hear about it.

Like nurses, state employees share a sense of mission about their work. A recent survey of California state workers found that 60 percent of respondents “strongly agree” with the statement, “I believe my work makes a difference in the lives of Californians.” Another 31 percent “somewhat agree.”

Like those nurses, a lot of state workers believe in their work. They just don’t think other people do.