Court Rules Against Christie Changes to State Workers’ Promotions System

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the annual State of the State address last year.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the annual State of the State address last year. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A New Jersey appeals panel weighed in against a rule adopted by the administration of Governor Chris Christie Thursday. Unions argued in court that Christie’s 2014 change to the Civil Service Commission’s advancement policy would have undermined public workers’ ability to earn promotions on their own merits.

That rule put state employees into groups of “job bands” with other sharing similar titles and functions. Supervisors, then were given greater discretion as to who could advance within their own “band” with less consideration for factors like their scores on the civil service exam or an independent assessment of their performance.

Christie had argued that the change would make state government more efficient, but the plaintiffs characterized the new policy as opening the door to more patronage hiring. Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers for America, represents one of the unions that sued the commission and praised the decision in a statement.

“For over a century, the Civil Service System has been based on the idea that people are appointed and promoted based on a system of objectively determined merit and fitness. From his first day in office, Gov. Christie has been obsessed with dismantling this fair, transparent system which protects the public from patronage and discrimination,” Rosenstein wrote.

“So, I am extremely heartened that the court repudiated Christie’s sneaky scheme to dismantle civil service by ignoring the will of the people, the legislature, the law, and our system of checks and balances.”

Democratic state lawmakers also jumped into the fray, calling the panel’s decision a way to ensure meritocratic advancement for state employees.

“If the administration was allowed to do away with civil service exams in favor of job banding, a hardworking employee’s performance and aptitude would be largely ignored. That would open the door for nepotism and cronyism, which we can never accept,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora.

Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio joined Gusciora in calling the decision a blow to nepotism.

“Job banding is just one of many efforts across the country aimed at weakening long-standing labor protections in favor of empowering those at the top.  This is a significant victory for employees that show up every day, do a good job and deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded for their hard work rather than cast aside in favor of the politically-connected.”

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