04/10/2013 03:40 pm ET Updated Apr 10, 2013

Chris Christie Civil Service Proposal Criticized By Union As Political, Discriminatory

A proposal from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration to overhaul the state's civil service structure is being criticized by a prominent union leader as political and potentially discriminatory.

The New Jersey Civil Service Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss merging various civil service positions, thus allowing for personnel transfers and pay raises without competitive testing. Hetty Rosenstein, the New Jersey state director for Communications Workers of America, said the merger -- known as broadbanding -- could destroy the Garden State's public employment system.

"The basis of government employment under the New Jersey constitution is supposed to be a competitive system of merit," Rosenstein told The Huffington Post. "In the private sector, someone can be advanced based on whether or not they are related or if they are pretty. That is not something we want to model in the public sector. The public sector is different."

Rosenstein said that the Christie administration has not informed her or other union leaders of how far-reaching the broadbanding could be. She said the plan could band together various job classifications under one title -- such as different auditor ranks -- or in broader segments, merge all financial jobs. Rosenstein said that under broadbanding, an employee could be promoted within their group, or band, without taking a test as is now required. Moving between bands, however, would require testing.

Rosenstein expressed concern that the rules could favor white employees over minorities and women, saying that she has seen this happen with political appointments.

"I have seen women get into supervisory and managerial posts," Rosenstein said. "I have seen people of color get into those posts. I have seen LGBT employees do that. [But] I've seen it based on the exams."

Rosenstein also questioned the hearing's timing. It is being held in the middle of the work day in a small room in Trenton, making it difficult for employees to attend, she said. Labor groups were not allowed to discuss the changes with state officials in advance, said Rosenstein.

A spokesman for the Civil Service Commission did not return repeated requests for comment and a Christie spokesman did not return a message.

Robert Soria, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, wrote for the American Academy of Public Administration that 15 states had implemented some form of broadbanding as of 2012. It is viewed as a way to reform government management, according to Soria, but he noted the importance of preventing "favoritism" in public employment under a broadbanding system.

Leslie Scott, spokeswoman for the National Association of State Personnel Executives, told HuffPost that "most states" that have implemented broadbanding have seen benefits. The biggest plus is that people are able to get raises more easily in their current jobs instead of being promoted, she said.

Christie has had a largely acrimonious relationship with public sector unions since taking office in 2010, including clashes over teacher tenure rules and overhauling public employee benefits. Christie's Democratic opponent in this year's election, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), is also demanding more hearings.

"Governor Christie’s assault on the working men and women of this state has reached a tipping point," Buono said in a statement. "The fact that the governor's Civil Service Commission would hold one hearing, during the middle of the day when the people impacted are most likely to be unable to attend, shows his administration’s disregard for working families."

UPDATE: New Jersey Civil Service Commission spokesman Peter Lyden told The Huffington Post via email late Wednesday afternoon that the commission is still in the process of considering changes to the state personnel rules and that the hearing was not a final decision. He indicated that the agency plans to seek more feedback going forward, but did not elaborate. Rosenstein's union has endorsed Buono over Christie.

"These are only proposed rule changes under consideration by the Civil Service Commission and we will continue to solicit input from the public and stakeholders to help better inform the process," Lyden said in the email. "The Civil Service Commission plans to take any feedback or concerns into consideration before taking any action on this rule proposal."



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