An Assault On The Civil Service System
In 1883, New York State Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt pushed through a bill that established a civil service system whereby government hiring was based on merit and fitness, not on favoritism and patronage, as had been the case under a succession of governors and mayors. It was the model for the entire nation and it still exists today. It might not, however, exist next year, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way. Last week, the Bloomberg administration called for far-reaching changes to the city’s workforce, including de-emphasizing civil service exams when hiring city workers and doing away with the seniority system that is the heart and soul of the public sector. Bloomberg calls it “an effort to modernize” the workforce, making it easier to lay off senior city workers and to end the Civil Service Commission’s sway over who gets hired and who does not. “The system is stodgy,” said Martha Hirst, the chairwoman appointed to the investigative committee that was authorized and funded by the mayor. “We wanted to find ways to get it moving and make it work better.” Union officials were not as sanguine. “It sounds to me that they want to handpick the people who work for the city,” said Sanitation Union president Harry Nespoli. “That’s not what civil service is about. It’s about equal opportunity when you take an exam to get a civil service job.” We agree with Nespoli. Bloomberg badly wants to bust the unions. He wants to get rid of older, more experienced teachers not because they are worse than new teachers, but because they cost more. In order for his plan to move forward, the State Legislature has to vote to do away with the civil service system. We urge them not to do that. The system was necessary in 1883 and it is still necessary today.