Staffing Management

New York Mayor Says Its too Hard to Fire, Punish City Workers

By Staff Report

Jan. 12, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a 23-step plan Jan. 7 to overhaul civil service work rules and make it easier for the city to fire and discipline workers—drawing immediate fire from municipal union leaders.

The mayor’s Workforce Reform Task Force said in its report that civil service exams are not suited for the modern work force and called for abolishing state oversight of the city’s hiring. The city has more than 300,000 employees, and the report argues that evolving technology, growing service needs and limited resources require workers with new skills and rules that allow for more flexibility in their deployment.

The task force of 10 administration officials came up with its recommendations without input from the city’s municipal unions. The state’s civil service law is more than 120 years old and was enacted to prevent cronyism in hiring.

“We have the best work force in the world, but the civil service is so antiquated that it prevents them from performing up to their abilities, costs taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary expenditures, and prevents us from retaining and promoting our best workers,” Bloomberg said, in a written statement.

Union officials said they did not receive the report until it was released publicly on Jan. 7 and that they were not consulted by the task force. “These proposals, as currently constituted, would not reform but instead destroy key elements that make the current system fair and equitable,” said Harry Nespoli, chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group of city unions.

“Civil Service was created to ensure that city workers were appointed and promoted on the basis of merit and fitness, not cronyism and patronage,” said DC 37 executive director Lillian Roberts. “Why would you want to dismantle a system specifically designed to protect the integrity of government and reintroduce a system where appointments and promotions are made based on who you know, not what you know?”

The task force recommended getting rid of seniority in teacher layoffs and suggested major changes to how other city workers are laid off. Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called the task force’s work “predetermined,” and said “it clearly was not an objective thing.”

Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith has been the driving force of the city’s attempts to reconfigure workplace rules, building on his experience as mayor of Indianapolis. In an article on in November, he wrote, “When we reward the mediocre, promote the less qualified, restrict problem solving discretion and turn the public’s work into a mechanical production of commodities, we demean public servants, degrade the quality of service and cheat taxpayers.”

Of the 23 proposals in the report, seven can be accomplished administratively by the city, 11 require changes in state law and five need to be negotiated via collective bargaining.
A spokesman for Bloomberg said legislation would soon be introduced in the state Legislature on some of the measures.

The report calls for eliminating testing for certain positions and for changing the method of examination for other jobs to account more for experience. It calls for taking job performance into account for provisional employees and not relying solely on their test scores. And it recommends doubling temporary appointments from a maximum of 18 months to three years.

It also calls for changes to disciplinary procedures to allow managers flexibility to impose sanctions without a hearing.

State Sen. Diane Savino, who chaired the New York Senate’s Civil Service and Pensions Committee when Democrats were in the majority, called the city’s proposal to end the State Civil Service Commission’s authority over hiring in the city a “nonstarter.” She said she was not consulted by the task force.

“I think I just heard Teddy Roosevelt roll over in his grave,” she said. She added that she’d be open to changes that modernize some rules, but would fight any attempt “to dismantle a system that protects economic opportunity for every New Yorker.”  

Filed by Daniel Massey of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail


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