TRENTON – The administration’s proposed Civil Service changes that have angered public workers and some Democratic lawmakers went before the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee Wednesday.
Union forces reiterated their charges that the so-called “banding’’ proposal will open the door to cronyism by allowing for promotions of less-qualified personnel.
The Commission maintains that its decision – a grouping of titles into a single broad band with similar abilities or qualifications – will facilitate advancements while cutting red tape.
But Chair Sen. Robert Gordon called it “a fundamental change to our current civil service system. Managers would have an unprecedented level of discretion’’ when considering promotions.
“Most alarming is the effective elimination of veterans’ preference,” he said, criticizing the administration’s attempt to enact such a sweeping change through rules-making rather than by going through the Legislature.
He pointed out that Civil Service officials were invited but did not attend the hearing. He acknowledged the Civil Service system could use some improvements but the administration’s wholesale changes concern him.
Sen. Ray Lesniak said that the Judiciary has a type of “banding’’ program but it was reached via negotiation. Broad banding done without negotiations will eclipse any potential efficiencies by injecting politics into the civil service system, the very thing civil service was designed to prevent, Lesniak said.
“As a veteran myself I am offended,’’ he said. “This is nothing more than an end run around veterans’ preferences.”
And Sen. Linda Greenstein said that civil service “was created more than 100 years ago to ensure that state workers are not at the whim of a spoils system.”
Hetty Rosentstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, reiterated her testimony previously before an Assembly committee that she has no confidence her concerns will even be considered by the administration and that the Civil Service Commission won’t publicly answer questions on the changes.
“They are counting on the fact that many people don’t want to wade through rules and regulations” to understand what is occurring, she said, adding the administration is attempting to camouflage the wide-ranging effects of the proposed changes.
She said the civil service commission will do away with much open competitive testing, with many appeals, and will dismantle a good system in existence for a century.
“This is a corrupt state, whether we like it or not,” and politicians will now have an easier time getting their friends hired, she said.
“We don’t have a democracy, we have a banana republic,’’ she said, if these changes are not prevented.
She said that in the past if a change was proposed there would be meetings held first with the commission and the labor advisory board, and three to five public hearings would be held around the state during daytime and evening hours.
She said there has not been a labor advisory board meeting since the Christie administration began.
Other opponents included the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Darnell Hardwick of the NAACP told of the discrimination he faced years ago in scoring high on exams yet being denied advancement until he appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
He said if this change goes through, promotions for older workers or whistleblowers will be next to impossible.
Greenstein suggested issuing subpoenas to get Civil Service officials before the committee. Gordon said it is something to consider and said he was offended no Civil Service officials appeared today.
And Gordon and Lesniak said that if each house passes a concurrent resolution the rules changes may be overturned.