Unions Prod DCAS To Speed Movement Of Hiring Rosters
By DAN ROSENBLUM | Posted: Monday, November 24, 2014 5:00 pm
Agency's Biggest Test
AGENCY’S BIGGEST TEST: During a Nov. 19 City Council hearing, Department of Citywide Administrative Services Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch (right) and Deputy Commissioner for Human Capital Dawn Pinnock (center) detail the agency’s plans to issue more civil-service exams and replace provisional city workers with permanent civil servants.
As the city undertakes a major effort to replace provisional workers with those who have passed competitive civil-service exams, union representatives gathered last week to decry a weakening of the merit system.
Joe Puleo, president of Local 983 of District Council 37, said he’s seen a decline in the 10 titles the local represents. Because of attrition, most Urban Park Rangers are provisional, and though there have been four Motor Vehicle Operator tests, candidates still haven’t been called.
‘Why Keep Giving Exams?’
“We do not have the amount of people that we need to fill these vacancies, but we still have these examinations over and over again,” he said.
His testimony came at the tail end of a three-hour City Council hearing Nov. 19 concerning the 130-year-old civil-service system. At the start, officials from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services highlighted efforts to speed up exams and abide by a state-mandated plan to fill jobs held by provisionals with those who have gone through the competitive process.
“Today, entire communities in our city, such as the one I represent in southeast Queens, have been built through the inclusiveness of this system,” said I. Daneek Miller, the chair of the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, which held the joint hearing with the Governmental Operations Committee. Mr. Miller is planning to hold at least one more civil-service hearing.
Of roughly 300,000 city workers, about 152,800 of them are in the Competitive Class, DCAS officials said. Last year, the workforce was 39 percent white, 35 percent black, 19 percent Latino and 7 percent Asian.
Speeding the Process
DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch and Deputy Commissioner for Human Capital Dawn Pinnock highlighted their plans to speed up exam-processing times by 25 percent as well as an approach to proactively schedule tests, as opposed to the former model of waiting for an agency to first express a need for new hires.
“The new DCAS seeks to use some of our workforce analytics, some information that maybe didn’t inform decisions in the past,” Ms. Cumberbatch said. To prepare for next year’s exams—when the department plans to issue 104—the Human Capital division is checking for titles with high attrition rates and those with soon-to-expire lists, then sharing suggestions with the applicable agencies.
Last year, it took a median of 441 days from administering a test to establishing a list, up nearly 30 percent from 344 days the previous year, reflecting an increase in the time for applicants to be hired. To shorten that, DCAS is looking at each step to cut redundancies, though some—such as the month-long protest review session—are legally required, Ms. Cumberbatch said.
But, she added, the metrics are flawed because some lists pending establishment drive the median time higher. For example, lists for Eligibility Specialists or Child Protection Specialists were constantly being developed, even as hiring slowed.
Had Been 37,000
The Commissioner updated the Council on its compliance with a 2007 State Court of Appeals decision to compel adhering to the section of the State Civil-Service Law that limits provisional appointments to nine months. The following year, the Bloomberg administration approved a plan to reduce its 37,397 non-competitive workers, and the de Blasio administration recently filed a request to extend the plan through 2016.
DCAS officials said the city wouldn’t be able to reach the goal of having no more than 5 percent of workers—estimated to be about 9,200—working provisionally at the end of the two-year plan. It is planning to cut the 22,954 remaining provisionals by 8,600 over that time.
The city has made some progress. In 2008, DCAS identified 4,353 provisionals in the Principal Administrative Associate, Clerical Associate and Clerical Aide titles; there are now five. Additionally, the agency has eliminated all 2,673 non-competitive workers in Child Protective Specialist, Eligibility Specialist and Job Opportunity Specialist roles.
As it detailed in last month’s state Civil Service Commission filing, the agency will give 37 more exams over the next two years, offering 7,000 provisionals the chance to become permanent city employees.
“In doing so, we are tackling exams that have not been administered in over 20 years, such as Education Officer and Bridge Repairer and Riveter,” Ms. Pinnock said.
The department is also planning to reclassify 1,600 provisionals, citing 389 titles that have fewer than 20 employees. It is also looking at whether those titles would be consolidated, deleted when they are empty or reclassified as non-competitive.
Arthur Cheliotes, chair of the Civil Service Committee of the Municipal Labor Committee, said he was pleased to see testing for provisionals but had “strong objections” to the reclassifications. He said the Office of Labor Relations and DCAS officials had assured the MLC of a meeting to discuss those titles, but it hadn’t yet heard back.
“If they want this to work, we’ve got to be in there at the development stages, so that the needs of the workers are known and dealt with,” he said.
Unions raised similar concerns in 2008 when the Bloomberg administration drafted its initial plans to reclassify a swath of titles. Mr. Cheliotes said the meritocracy was needed to protect against favoritism and pointed to a “patronage mill” that operated in City Hall under former Mayor Ed Koch in the 1980s. (Koch aides often used a “Talent Bank,” established to hire women and minorities, to instead reward political allies.)
Mr. Cheliotes referred to a “provisional merry-go-round” on which some temporary workers were hired and reclassified to another non-competitive title once a hiring list appeared, depriving them of a promotion opportunity.
DC 37 Local 1549 Vice President Ralph Palladino said the merit-based testing was heavily diminished under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He observed that many clerical and administrative roles were filled with contract workers and those under the welfare-to-work program, instead of using the civil-service system. He said 400 temps working at the Health and Hospitals Corporation were examples of workers being underpaid and deprived of benefits.
“It’s a perpetuation of wage slavery that the city should never do,” he said.
There were workers in 12 non-competitive titles being used for routine clerical work in 15 agencies, according to a list Mr. Palladino provided. Two members of Local 983 also said they worked in divisions that had been drastically reduced as the workload became more demanding and workers on lists weren’t hired to pick up the slack.
Ann Valdez, a member of Community Voices Heard, cried while saying she had tried for years to get a clerical job, even though she’d passed civil-service exams, most recently in 2008, but stayed for years on lists that didn’t move. This spring, she was hired by the Taxi and Limousine Commission and was assigned to deliver files and lift boxes weighing an average of 40 pounds. The work was too strenuous, she said, and she was ultimately forced to resign after three months.
“I found it strange that a candidate would have to take a civil-service test to do that, yet employees handling personal documents belonging to people applying for TLC licenses didn’t require a test,” she said. “Just simply applying online, coming in for an interview and being hired, especially if you knew someone.”