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Upheaval Begins For City Employees

Please note the comments contributed by MEA President Stu Eber in the November 17 issue of Crain’s New York Business.


Chris Bragg

November 16, 2014 12:01 a.m.

In response to a court ruling and a state law passed this year, the de Blasio administration has quietly released a proposal to put more than 7,000 municipal jobs up for grabs by the end of 2016. The action threatens to disrupt city agencies—but it would still fall well short of getting the government into compliance.

The 2007 court decision compels the city to purge thousands of "provisional" employees who never took constitutionally mandated civil-service exams for their positions. City officials, who would rather not lose so many experienced middle managers at once, have been trying to buy time to comply. The state law gives the city through 2016.

But the de Blasio plan, released in October, would leave more than 14,000 provisional employees on the payroll—far more than the 5% of competitive job titles that they can hold—suggesting the city will seek another extension from Albany. The number ultimately needs to be slashed to about 9,000.

The plan would most affect 2,500 administrative staff analysts, 1,200 occupational therapists at the Department of Education and 800 administrative managers. Exams for those positions would be held in 2015, according to the proposal, which needs state Civil Service Commission approval.

Provisional workers are purportedly temporary but some have been on the payroll for years. The state constitution dictates that government appointments be based on "merit and fitness," and for many jobs that's determined by exam scores. Only the top three scorers can be interviewed for some posts.

"The process will take time, and we expect to retain the city's best and brightest," said Stacey Cumberbatch, commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which conducts the exams, in an October statement. But the exams measure knowledge of agency rules and procedures, not managerial skills, temperament and experience.

Labor leaders who felt the Bloomberg administration protected provisional employees by not giving exams have been encouraged by the new administration's efforts. Exam-based hires enjoy civil-service protections that provisional employees lack.

Still, Stuart Eber, president of the nonunion New York City Managerial Employees Association, expressed concern that some 2,000 of his workers hold titles for which no tests have been scheduled. That includes such classifications as administrative engineer, accountant and architect.

"The provisionals have been there for 15 or 20 years, in many cases," Mr. Eber said. "This problem wouldn't exist if the prior administration had given the exams it was supposed to."

The de Blasio administration proposal would also reclassify 1,600 positions so exams would no longer apply to them. The city says hundreds of titles have fewer than 20 employees, making tests financially impractical. Labor interests prefer test-based hiring, which was designed to stop political patronage.

In 2007, nearly 37,000 provisional workers occupied more than 19% of the jobs that were supposed to be filled based on exam scores. As of August, about 23,000 remained.

A version of this article appears in the November 17, 2014, print issue of Crain's New York Business. Please click on the link below to view the issue as it appeared in Crain’s New York. 


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