March 26, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – The city administration wants to fill more than 60 Department of Buildings jobs without civil-service exams, and the Organization of Staff Analysts union is vexed about it.
About 45 middle-management positions, including deputy commissioners, assistant commissioners, and borough commissioners, would be classified as either “exempt,” policy-making or confidential jobs, or “non-competitive,” jobs it would be impractical to fill by a competitive examination. About 20 non-managerial jobs, including confidential strategy planners, executive assistants, and the commissioner’s chauffeur, would be classified as non-competitive.
To accomplish this, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services is proposing creating 19 new job titles, an agency spokesperson said. The Buildings Department would also add positions under three existing titles.
Many of these jobs, from first deputy commissioner to the lower-ranking executive inspectors, involve setting goals and policies, Sharon Neill, the Buildings Department’s deputy commissioner for finance and administration, told a DCAS hearing on the proposal Mar. 22. The 11 assistant commissioners, she said, have “full latitude for the exercise of independent initiative and judgment,” and the equal employment opportunities officer must have “unique skills and abilities.” These involve skills that are too specialized to be judged by a test, she added.
The nonmanagerial jobs require “highly confidential and exceptionally difficult and responsible executive work,” she testified. And the commissioner’s chauffeur must have “complete trustworthiness and discretion.”
To OSA chair Robert Croghan, these proposals are “almost like a stealth attack on civil service,” a back door to patronage.” What are “unique skills and abilities,” he asked in his testimony. “You want to appoint somebody you know.” The requirements to be equal employment opportunities officer, he said, include a college degree and experience in staff analysis, and by that standard, the city has 4,000 staff analysts who are perfectly qualified and “would like to move up.” Which jobs are deemed managerial should be determined by collective bargaining, he added.
Bobby Lee, treasurer of the New York City Civil Service Merit Council, testified that the new titles would be at-will employees, and recalled a boss he had at the Health and Hospitals Corporation who told the staff, “each and every one of you works here because I say so.”
“Every administration since 1901, with the exception of Abe Beame, has been dedicated to creating patronage jobs,” Croghan told LaborPress. If positions are not filled competitively, “the mayor owns all the jobs, and he uses that for his own advancement,” he continued. “I’m very disappointed that the de Blasio administration seems to be doing the same thing when it comes to the Buildings Department.”
About 20% of the city’s workforce serves in non-competitive titles, according to DCAS. “These titles have minimum qualifications, which must be validated, can be audited, and are subject to a selection process,” an agency spokesperson says.
Far less controversial is a proposal to create an apprentice painter title for up to 105 public-housing residents participating in the Housing Authority’s Pathways to Trade Jobs Initiative. Currently, apprentices in the four-year program are not eligible to be represented by labor unions, testified Davon Lomax, political director of District Council 9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. If the new title is approved, he added, “these men and women will be able to learn and develop the skills to work safely and professionally. Not only will they continue to perform the challenges of NYCHA’s thousands of pending work orders; they will earn union wages, receive health, vacation, and pension benefits.”
If the new title is approved, Lomax told LaborPress, it would be “the only one in the country and the first time in New York that there’ll be an apprenticeship title.”
Once public comments are completed—the deadline is Mar. 25—DCAS will send the proposal and the testimony to Mayor Bill de Blasio. If he approves it, it will then go to the state Department of Civil Service, and if they approve it, it will come back to the mayor for his signature.