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Gordon-Greenstein-Lesniak Resolution To Stop Civil Service Commission’s Attack On State Workers Approved By Senate

Senator Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, speaks at a Budget Committee meeting in support of his bill to provide flood control funding for Bergen County.

Measure is First Step to Blocking Proposed Rule Change

TRENTON – A concurrent resolution sponsored by Senators Bob Gordon, Linda R. Greenstein and Raymond J. Lesniak that is the first step in the process to block implementation of the Civil Service Commission’s proposed rule that would create jobs banding for state employees was approved today by the full Senate. The resolution declares the rule change is against Legislative intent.

“There is always room to improve efficiencies in any system, and I have no doubt that that includes the state’s civil service system, but I have serious concerns over rule changes that completely rewrite the entire organizational structure of New Jersey’s civil service system,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen and Passaic. “Our predecessors in the Legislature championed reforms that would ensure the end of the spoil system of the 19th Century. And the law is clear on how advancement should occur within the civil service system, yet the Civil Service Commission appears to feel empowered to undo these reforms without Legislative input or oversight. We can not allow for a dismantling of the system through a process that has not included adequate public opinion opportunities. The working men and women of this state deserve better than to have these changes forced upon them. They deserve a seat at the table and a more honest and deliberative process.”

On March 18, 2013, the New Jersey Registrar published proposed rule changes by the Civil Service Commission that would make sweeping changes to the state’s civil service in the form of a “Job Banding Program.” Under the proposal, multiple job titles and title series would be grouped together under a band. Promotion within a band would no longer require a civil service examination, and instead be at the discretion of management.

“Our current civil service system has worked well for the state for over a hundred years, ensuring that patronage, discrimination and favoritism do not seep into the hiring, firing and promotion decisions of our state workers,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “In one fell swoop, the Civil Service Commission is gutting these protections, eliminating the objective civil service test, and allowing management to arbitrarily determine promotions. We must keep these rules from being implemented to ensure the continued protections provided to our public workers under civil service.”

The proposal would also severely roll back veterans’ preference procedures under Civil Service. Under the current system, eligible veterans who pass the civil service examination are ranked higher than nonveterans for hiring and promotion preference. With this rule change, a substantial number of personnel moves that are currently considered promotions would be redefined as advancements, leaving no place for the application of veterans’ preference procedures and effectively rolling back its application.

“New Jersey’s veterans should be appalled at the Civil Service Commission’s plan to effectively strip away veterans’ preferences within the state’s civil service system. As a proud veteran myself, I feel that this end run around veterans’ preference – which ensures that a veteran cannot be passed over for a promotion over a non-veteran – is despicable,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “The civil service system’s structure protects minorities and the disadvantaged, ensuring that management does not cherry-pick who gets a promotion within our state and local governments. These rule changes will be a step backwards for those workers who are gay, women, minorities or older, stripping them of the protections against cronyism and bias. Employees need to know that their merits and expertise are what will help them advance, rather than currying favors with those making the hiring decisions.”

The New Jersey State Constitution explicitly states that appointments and promotions in the civil service of the state should be based on merit and fitness to be determined by examination. The Senators note that creating job bands, where civil service workers are promoted without an examination, is in direct conflict with the Constitution.

Additionally, the Civil Service Act within New Jersey state statute provides that the selection and advancement of employees shall be based on their relative knowledge, skills and abilities; ensure equal employment opportunity at all levels of public service; and protect career public employees from political coercion. The Civil Service Act also states that the Civil Service Commission is required to establish and maintain classification of titles and positions and announce and administer promotional examinations for any title.

The Senators also expressed an objection to the Commission’s attempt to circumvent the Legislative process through a rule change and without providing adequate public comment opportunities. The Commission held one public meeting at 3 pm on a workday, when many of those most affected would be unable to attend. The Commission also failed to take steps that prior Administrations had adhered to in devising changes to the Civil Service system, like openly discussing the proposal with affected labor unions and holding meetings of the Labor Advisory Board.

The Senate approved the concurrent resolution with a vote of 24-13. The Assembly released an identical resolution earlier this week with a vote of 46-32.

The Civil Serve Commission will now have 30 days to amend or withdraw the proposed rule change. If they fail to do so, the Senate and Assembly may pass a second concurrent resolution to invalidate the regulations.