TRENTON –The basic issue of fairness and public access to government jobs was the subject of a hearing today before the Assembly State Government Committee.
The hearing – featuring testimony from labor, lawmakers, veterans and others – was spurred by a decision recently by the administration to alter Civil Service Commission rules affecting how jobs are filled and how workers are promoted.
The Commission says that its decision – a grouping of titles into a single broad band with similar abilities or qualifications – will facilitate advancements while cutting red tape.
However, Hetty Rosentstein, head of the Communications Workers of America, said today it will do great harm.
She said the Civil Service Commission plan would change the layoff progression, eliminate due process appeals, and supplant promotions with a more vague “advancement’’ system.
“This rule all but eliminates veterans preference promotions,’’ Rosenstein told the panel.
Committee Chair Assemblywoman Linda Stender said that “Civil Service, at its very base level, is about access to jobs and opportunity in government.
“It’s about competent, fair access that protects against nepotism, kickbacks.’’
Stender and Rosenstein also criticized the administration’s decision to hold one hearing a few weeks ago late on a workday afternoon in a small room.
Rosenstein also questioned the constitutionality of the proposed “advancement’’ process.
She warned that the public comment period ends may 17 and then after that a few people “in a tiny little room” can vote to end what has been in place for 100 years.
The packed hearing room included some Democratic lawmakers who have been allies of labor, including Sen. Linda Greenstein and Assemblyman Dan Benson of the 14th District.
Greenstein said that “I want to protest a system that will breed cronyism, bias, nepotism, and general unfairness.”
She said the Civil Service system is fair. “There is now a promotional list and a fair testing process,” which she said would be done away with under this proposal.
She accused the administration of bypassing legislative intent and using a “back door unjust process’’ to get what it wants via rule-making.
And Benson provided a personal example of the unjust practices that Civil Service works to prevent. He said that his great aunt worked in the Motor Vehicles department and often was discouraged from taking the promotions test because she was told a male employee’s family “needs the money’’ more.
The independent analyses of Civil Service ensure fairness, he told the committee.
He said cronyism is still an issue in Hamilton Township in Mercer County, for example, and warned that this proposal will make it worse.
The committee also heard testimony from a representative of the many veterans present.
“Gov. Christie is stabbing veterans in the back,’’ said Joseph Fornarotto, commander of the 509-member Belleville-Nutley Disabled Veterans, who told the panel this proposal puts veterans at a disadvantage. Employers, he said, already often prefer to hire a young college grad as opposed to an older disabled person.
And Darnell Hardwick, a vice president of the N.J. State Conference of the NAACP, acknowledged that there is a need for reform, but told the committee that “politics is the main purpose of this proposal. It is a change for the convenience of the appointment authorities and not a change for efficiencies.’’
Stender pointed out that both the administration and the Civil Service Commission had been invited to testify and declined to appear.
Committee member John McKeon expressed disappointment at their absence, and championed Civil Service rules as one method of actually doing something he said that usually cannot be done: legislating morality.
Stender also criticized the fact that the Civil Service committee is an all-white four-member panel of appointees whose experience primarily is in private business. “We have built a record here today,’’ she said, in part because of the lack of access and transparency in the process being afforded those who will be most affected by the proposed change.
Committee member Democrat Herb Conaway criticized the administration’s proposal, and said it has a record of attacking public workers.