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TSEA: Haslam’s TEAM Act a Return to ‘Patronage and Political Cronyism’

Press Release from Tennessee State Employees Association; Jan. 23, 2012:

TSEA Has Serious Concerns with Civil Service Bill

The Tennessee State Employees Association has reviewed and analyzed the Haslam administration’s proposed TEAM Act of 2012 and has serious concerns with the bill in its current form.

As written, this bill would dismantle the civil service system, destroying the protections that system provides to the people of Tennessee. TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell commented, “Dismantling the civil service system would thrust this state back into a time of Patronage and Political Cronyism when state government jobs were distributed by politicians as rewards for campaign support and other loyal ‘service’.”

Today the qualifications of every applicant for a state job are evaluated, measured, and ranked based on their scores. Conversely, the administration’s “TEAM” bill eliminates this system of objective scoring and allows managers to hire anyone they choose who possesses the minimum qualifications for the job. This new system might be a little faster, but the people of this state deserve employees who are more than “minimally qualified”.

Under the present civil service system, most employees can only be fired for poor performance or bad conduct. Those designated as “executive service”, however, can be fired for any reason, or for no reason, really. The new bill greatly increases the number of employees who can and will be designated executive service, subjecting them to arbitrary termination, once again opening the door to political cronyism.

Under the new bill, employees who are not part of the expanded “executive service” are referred to as “preferred service”. While preferred service employees do retain the right to file a grievance, they will lose the right to any face-to-face hearing until the final step of the grievance process. Under the present system, that final hearing would be held before the Civil Service Commission. The new bill eliminates the Commission and replaces it with a Board of Appeals which will serve the same functions as the Commission it replaces. In the present system, Commission members can only be removed by the governor for cause, after an opportunity for a public hearing. The members of the new Board will all be appointed by the present governor, who can remove any member whenever he pleases. The current process establishes the required independence and impartiality of the Commission, but that independence and impartiality is eliminated in the new “TEAM” bill.

When economic or other conditions make it necessary to lay-off some employees, the present system helps to ensure (through a process called “bumping” and “retreating”) that the most senior employees retain their jobs, invaluable experience is not lost, and our taxpayers’ investment is not wasted. The “TEAM” bill eliminates this seniority factor, draining our state of valuable institutional knowledge.

Governor Haslam’s administration has agreed to a series of meetings with TSEA leadership to allow us to express our specific concerns with the bill on behalf of state employees. His administration has assured us that they are committed to hearing our concerns and seeing what can be incorporated in the bill. This willingness to talk and reason together is becoming a hallmark of TSEA’s relationship with the Governor. We can only hope that it will lead to a bill which will protect the interests of the people of Tennessee and not drag us back into the political patronage and cronyism of a half-century ago.

Until the negotiation process is complete, and TSEA is assured state employees remain protected, we are firmly opposed to the bill.

TSEA is a nonprofit association existing to provide a strong unified voice with which it advocates the work-related interests of members. The attainment of association objectives will ensure a better life for our members and will attract and retain an effective, efficient state workforce to provide services for all Tennesseans. TSEA was established in 1974. For further information, visit the Web site at www.tseaonline.org.

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