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Brewer preparing proposal on state employee system

Gov. Jan Brewer plans to propose significant changes to the state’s personnel system, possibly including a reduction of current job protections held by many workers.

The proposal is still being developed, but changing the state’s current system of rights-based major personnel categories “is one of the models that we’re looking at,” Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said Friday.

Under the state’s so-called merit system, “covered” workers have appeal rights and other protections that come into play before they can be fired, which can only be for cause. Uncovered workers are also called “at will,” because they can be dismissed virtually at the will of their bosses.

Senseman said the administration is reviewing what such states as Florida, Georgia and Texas have done to revamp their state personnel systems. Changes made by those states included lifting or reducing provisions on disciplinary actions and firings.

Brewer, a Republican, believes most state workers are dedicated and do good work but that there also are “bad apples,” Senseman said.

“We want to motivate and retain the excellent state employees that we have, which she believes is the vast majority of them, but also have a system that is able to remove those that are not upholding the public will and trust,” he said.

Legislative authorization would be required, but Republicans who have supported small-government measures in the past increased their majorities in the House and Senate in the Nov. 2 election.

“We think it will have a good base of support,” Senseman said.

He cited an investigative report released recently by the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute. It concluded that appeal rights and other personnel processes make it costly and time-consuming to discipline and terminate public employees in Arizona, with many being placed on paid leave for long periods while awaiting outcomes.

An organizer for a union with members that include Arizona state employees from various agencies said it’d be unfair to remove job protections of employees who chose to be covered and have those rights instead of being uncovered and receiving higher pay and other benefits.

“Are they willing to pay people more and give them more sick time and vacation for taking away those rights? I don’t think so,” said Scott Ramsey of the Communications Workers union.

A Democratic legislator, Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, said she’s skeptical that changes proposed by Brewer would actually make state government more efficient and “not just advance an ideological agenda.”

Sinema, currently a state representative, has been named to the Senate Government Reform Committee, a panel that likely will review major legislation dealing with the state’s personnel system.

Opponents of changes adopted in Georgia in 1996 and Florida in 2001 argued that they would be a move toward political influence over state hiring.

Senseman said Brewer’s review is looking at that concern. However, “we hold our elected officials in Arizona accountable for the actions of many throughout government so therefore logically those folks should be accountable to the elected officials that the citizens hold accountable to them,” he said.

Of the 30,832 state employees included in the Department of Administration’s main personnel system as of September, 82 percent were covered and 18 percent were uncovered, department spokesman Alan Ecker said.

That system does not include university employees or approximately 4,200 employees of the courts, the legislative branch, the Department of Public Safety and a handful of other executive branch agencies.

Compared with some other states, Arizona’s state employees have little clout at the Capitol.

Several months after taking office in January 2009, Brewer erased her Democratic predecessor’s executive order giving state government workers the “meet and confer” right to hold informational talks with agency administrators on working conditions and other matters.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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