Labor, Dem lawmakers decry proposed Civil Service changes as cronyism

TRENTON – Labor groups and lawmakers told hearing officers of the Civil Service Commission Wednesday afternoon that proposed changes to regulations that would give managers more influence in determining who receives raises and promotions is too subjective.

It would increase cronyism by doing away with “objective” methods like testing that’s normally used in such situations, the commission was told.

The opponents of the proposed changes added that it would place minorities and individuals with disabilities at a particular disadvantage.

Democrats Sen. Linda Greenstein, and Assembly members Daniel Benson, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Wayne DeAngelo, who all represent districts heavily populated with state workers, testified at the hearing and urged the commission to hold off on adopting the rules and hold more hearings, preferably at bigger venues and more convenient times rather than a workday afternoon.

They said not enough stakeholders were informed about the proposed changes prior to the hearing.

“One hearing is not enough,” Coleman said.

At least 60 people packed a relatively small square room at the CSC’s headquarters on South Clinton Avenue in Trenton.

Eric Richard of the AFL-CIO brought a stack of more than 656 letters to the hearing officers.

The Civil Service Commission has cited what it called a Judiciary Banding system as a model for the regulatory changes. But unlike the Judiciary, the CSC’s proposed regulatory changes have not been negotiated, opponents said. They were just drafted, or as Richard described them, “railroaded.”

The 94-page proposal of regulatory changes calls for replacing the current three-tier system with a five-tier system. It is expected to affect about 80,000 public employees.

Several unions, including CWA, AFSCME, and the AFL-CIO, all expressed opposition, saying it replaces the “merit system” with a spoils system, a la Tammany Hall.

A rally took place outside CSC headquarters, with workers holding up signs and chanting, “Stand up for workers’ rights.”

Benson said that with the type of regulations being proposed by the state, it is no secret why the book “Soprano State” was a bestseller.

The proposal states that while “competitive exams have been accepted practice,” it states that  “it cannot be ignored that, for more than 60 years, the courts and civil service rules have permitted the Civil Service Commission and its predecessor agencies to waive competitive examinations on the grounds of impracticability, as long as the waiver was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.”

The public can still submit comment until May 17, hearing officer Chris Meyers said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Senator Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) released the following statement on the issue:

“Governor Christie’s assault on the working men and women of this state has reached a tipping point. The fact that the Governor’s Civil Service Commission would hold one hearing, during the middle of the day when the people impacted are most likely to be unable to attend, shows his administration’s disregard for working families. Promotions and advancements should not be subject to the political pressures. The Commission must hold more hearings throughout the state to allow working families an opportunity to allow workers to testify and provide more transparency.”

Labor, Dem lawmakers decry proposed Civil Service changes as cronyism