IT'S THE KIND OF news story we don't expect to see anymore. It tells us that Cheryl Petska has been fired from her job as a Virginia state trooper for insubordination. The facts: Cheryl Petska says she was given two days' notice to report for two weeks of patrol duty at coal fields in southwest Virginia and that two days did not give her enough time to make baby-sitting arrangements for her daughters. She refused the assignment, and her firing became official Dec. 29.
The Virginia state police arent't talking about the specifics of this case. Capt. E. T. Keister of the Fredericksburg office, where Petska is stationed, says everything is confidential. "We look at this as a purely administrative matter, dealing with an employe and we keep these matters confidential." He was also unwilling to detail how troopers are assigned to duty at the coal fields, where there have been on-going labor problems, but he claimed that Petska's assignment was handled the way other such assignments have been habdled. "There was nothing different," he said.
Apparently Petska was not treated differently. Fer supervisor tried to get male troopers to take the coal-field duty at the last minute but they had court assignments and one, she said, also had inlaws visiting. She said she was ordered on a Friday afternoon to report by 2 p.m. Monday at the oal fields 400 miles away from her home, an eighthour drive. "I feel like it's not only unfair to me, it's unfair to any trooper in the state," says Petska. "We have a lot of troopers who feel the same way but won't speak up because they're afraid of being terminated. I've had several of them tell me they wish they'd had the guts to do what I did but if they lost their job, they have their families to support and they couldn't risk it."
Petska says that in other state trooper divisions, such as the one in Fairfax-Alexandria, schedules are posted two weeks to a month in advance so that troopers can plan ahead. "This wasn't wasn't any emergency," says Petska's lawyer Joseph Duvall. "The coal strike's been going on over a year. Troopers up here have their dates up way in advance as to when they're going to the coal fields. This is enlightened management. This is concern for people under you. Understanding that they have other obligations other than being a state trooper."
Petska says a lot of troopers feel the need to be constantly on call, to be dedicated 24 hours a day."I believe this is why there's a high divorce rate in police work. He has the responsibility at home also. Usually something has to be neglected. Unfortunately a lot of times, it's the family that has to be neglected."
Cheryl Petska joined the force in October 1976, the first woman to do so. Last year she married a fellow trooper who is now doing undercover work and was unable to take care of the children. There are now four women in the state police force of over 1,000 men, and the force is under a federal court order to recruit women.
Petska knows her situation is unusual, that you don't often find two troopers married to each other. She says most of the men she works with have wives who work 9-to-5 hours and are able to adjust to their husband's unpredictable hours. But what she is also saying is that both she and her husband work, and like many working couples, they need advance notice when their company is going to make unusual demands on them.
Cheryl Petska's case seems very simple.This was not an emergency situation. What happened appears to be purely and simply a case of bad management, a case in which supervisors did not plan ahead, find out their personnel needs and assign accordingly. If Petska was not treated any differently than the men in her division, as Capt. Keister claims, then the whole division is being treated shabbily and the men ought to be grateful to her for raising a fuss.
Men working for corparations and for paramilitary and military outfits have traditionally put on a great show of traveling, of jetting off hither and you on a moment's notice, all for the good of the corporation. They always had the little woman at home who took care of the house, the kids, the pets, the cars.
But that's not the case anymore in a growing number of families. The little woman is working too. She doesn't have the time or the energy to be a full-time support system for her corporate or military husband as well as to be a full-time wasge earner. Not only cn't she help him, but she now needs his help: she needs him to share baby-sitting chores so she can work and go to conferences and weekend training sessions and late-night work sessions.
This means the husband can't jump at the corporate whim so quickly. He isn't nearly the free agent that he was before his wife went to work. Corporations are beginning to realize that inflation and other social pressures are forcing both parents into the work force and that their employes often now have working spouses which means they have child care problems. Some corporations are making accommodations: they are instituting such things as four-day workweeks, flex-time, job sharing, and men who refuse assignments out of town or abroad because their families might suffer are being looked upon with approval rather than disdain.
Ten years ago, when women were marching across job barriers and we were forever reading about the first women would not have been caught dead refusing an assignment because of child care problems. It was a mark of personal success fro a working mother to be able to state that she had never taken a day off because her child was home sick and that she'd never refused an assignment because of not having a baby sitter. This was a merit badge: it meant you were the Perfect Working Mother.
Cheryl Petska has not fallen for the mystique. She got two days' notice for a long out-of-town assignment and said it was not enough notice to arrange for child care. She is giving away the secret that the Perfect Working Wife has to juggle like mad to have her children cared for while she works, particularly when her work routine changes temportarily.
Petska's lawyer says he will appeal the dismissal and presumably somewhere in the state police force or in the courts, cooler heads will prevail. And presumably someone will tell the officers in Petska's division that it is simply good management to post schedules in advance so employes can plan their private lives. This is not just a civility to extend toward working mothers on the force. It's a civility that working fathers in police work may also demand someday.