In The News › Policy that lets laid-off New Orleans workers ‘bump’ those with less seniority up for debate today

Jun 30, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Civil Service, Orleans Parish

Policy that lets laid-off New Orleans workers ‘bump’ those with less seniority up for debate today

Thursday, June 30, 2011
By Michelle Krupa
The Times-Picayune

New Orleans’ Civil Service Commission this morning is slated to take up a controversial proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to abolish a policy that lets employees whose positions are eliminated claim the jobs of workers with less seniority in similar posts anywhere else in city government.

The 10 a.m. meeting is opening to the public and is expected to draw a throng of rank-and-file employees. It will be held at the City Council chamber at City Hall, 1300 Perdido St.

The measure had been slated for a commission vote June 8, but Landrieu’s top aide asked for a delay to allay employees’ fears that the move presages a raft of layoffs.

Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin has called the anxiety “unfounded,” and Landrieu this month said layoffs and furloughs are not part of his administration’s effort to shave $16.2 million from the 2011 budget to help close a budget shortfall leftover from last year.

Known as the “bumping” rule, the policy at issue can set off a chain reaction across departments and city agencies. An administrative assistant laid off from the Health Department, for instance, can “bump” a worker doing a similar job at the Sewerage & Water Board, who in turn can seize the comparable job of a junior colleague in the Police Department, and so on.

In a May 2 memo to the Civil Service Commission, Kopplin called the long-standing bumping policy “wasteful and inefficient” and said it forces “square pegs … into round holes” by guaranteeing a senior worker a job in an unfamiliar department while displacing an experienced employee.

“This bumping disrupts the normal flow of business in each department and interferes with customer service, costs the department the institutional knowledge of their employees, and requires them to train their new employees to do the jobs of those they replaced, essentially requiring taxpayers to pay a second time to train someone for that position, “ he wrote.

Short of doing away with the practice entirely, the administration wants to restrict bumping to employees within the same “organizational unit,” defined as a department, agency, commission or office. The mayor also could define a group of employees within a designated group as a unit unto itself.

The proposed change is just one facet of a major overhaul of the civil service system that Landrieu has promised, including updating job classifications throughout city government.

The mayor has said employees whose jobs are consolidated or eliminated would be laid off and allowed to reapply for new posts, though the administration has fallen far behind an April deadline it set for completing the reorganization.

Today’s agenda also includes a discussion of the “release” and “rehire” of city workers.

The president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a watchdog group that in 2004 published a report that found that “bumping can wreak havoc with the city’s work force,” sent a letter Tuesday to the commission stating its strong support for the administration’s proposal.

“In short, the current system sacrifices the maintenance of an effective work force to job protection. It is in serious need of an overhaul,” president Janet Howard wrote.

Howard, however, expressed concerns about the designation of an “organizational unit” within a department, agency, commission or office, saying that the provision is “written quite broadly” and gives the mayor too much discretion.

BGR suggests the authority to designate such a sub-category lie with the Civil Service Commission, which should apply “objective criteria, such as whether the designated ‘organization unit’ is composed of all employees with clearly related functions.”

Aiming to rebut the notion that the current bumping policy prioritizes workers who have managed to remain at City Hall for decades despite poor performance, Civil Service Commission Executive Director Lisa Hudson has pointed out that the current system prioritizes performance over seniority.

Civil service rules state that layoffs first apply to all permanent employees with unsatisfactory grades, then to those with “needs improvement” ratings, and so on through a succession of performance categories.

Within the categories, however, length of tenure remains the key factor in determining who gets laid off first, and workers with the most seniority within their performance classes retain the right to claim jobs of similarly ranked colleagues anywhere else in city government.

However, Howard points out in her letter that a summary of service ratings for 2010 found that only 31 of 4,315 employees were rated as needing improvement, and just one worker earned an unsatisfactory grade.

“Because of weaknesses in the evaluation system, seniority — rather than employee performance — is the principal determinant in bumping,” Howard wrote. She urged the administration and the commission to “correct this serious weakness in the city’s human resource management.”

Jun 30, 2011

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Civil Service, Orleans Parish

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