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Time to thank these vital workers

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Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Labor Day approaches. What better time to reflect on some workers we absolutely need?

• Military service people on active duty are at the top of the list, based on risk of death and maiming, mediocre pay, cumbersome work clothes and major disruptions, such as multiple deployments to war zones. And just 1 percent of the U.S. population takes it on, all volunteers, on behalf of the rest of us.

• Oil and gas field workers are making America — astonishingly — “energy independent.” Like pioneer forbears, they pick up stakes to move to remote North Dakota, Western Pennsylvania. “Fracking” for deep reserves bestirs activists to march, shout slogans and make movies against your livelihood.

• Health care providers. Under mountains of paperwork and regulation they somehow comfort the ill, injured, helpless and dying, enduring the groans, tears, mess and smells inseparable from the business of healing.

• Fast-food shift managers, either up from the fryers and flippers, belying the “dead-end job” myth, or down after layoff from higher-paying careers. Fresh out of unemployment pay, or sick of it, they go where the jobs are, in fields once “beneath” them. Good move.

• Police officers keep getting new obstacles to their job-effectiveness. The latest is a judge's ruling that New York's stop-and-frisk system seems unconstitutional to her, never mind the noticeably safer city. The badge brigades also are forbidden to “profile” the likeliest bad guys.

• Schoolteachers. They've got to prepare future citizens who are deprived of parental discipline at home even as school budgets crowd out music and extracurricular activities that enrich kids.

• Sewer, water, power and road systems workers. They maintain the “infrastructure” that's out of sight out of mind till Nature or simple wear n' tear go blooey. Then we realize how much this “information economy” still needs blue collar workers.

• Forest fire fighters, for all the obvious reasons. But wouldn't it be something if this summertime plague didn't have to be quite this bad? That is, if woodlands were managed with less attention to maintaining habitat for “endangered” species.

Do union leaders and corporate chief executive officers belong on this holiday honors list? On condition, yes.

The CEOs would have to voluntarily cut back — otherwise it will surely come by government regulation — on their extreme pay, perk and option deals. The bosses now average close to 400 times what rank-and-filers get paid. True, even if they cut way back to just 100 times (decades ago it was 40), there'd still be class envy. Liberals would see to that.

Union leaders have one chance to regain the prestige they had of old. They must persuade members that “less” is sometimes “more” at contract time. When uneconomical demands push companies out of business and jobs overseas, where's the gain to working stiffs? The equivalent shortsightedness in the public sector is for municipal services to be starved in order to keep up absurdly rich funding for compensation. Labor's great comeuppance in 2013 came in Detroit. No more Detroits next Labor Day.

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email

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