October 20, 2011

Do-over in the works for exemptions in the new Consolidated Technology Services agency?

Legislators miffed because the administration cut the bargaining and civil service rights of about two-thirds of the new Consolidated Technology Services (CTS) agency may lead the charge to push the undo button and roll back the exemptions of more than 150 front-line information technology workers.

The push to pause the CTS job exemptions, which allow the agency to fire them at will for no just cause, was aired at Wednesday’s (Oct. 19) hearing before the House General Government Appropriations and Oversight Committee.

“It actually costs the state nothing to push pause, let some of this play out, and let you guys reconvene in January to figure out some of these finer details and how it’s coming, how it’s evolving and the shape it’s taking,” Federation Lobbyist Alia Griffing urged the committee.

Committee Chair Rep. Zack Hudgins of the 11th District agreed.

“I am surprised at the number of folks that fell under the exempt job descriptions,” Hudgins told CTS Director Mike Ricchio. “I don’t think that two-thirds of the agency was contemplated during the negotiations with representatives from both parties, both chambers.

“So I’m sure there is going to be legislation to hem that in a little bit. So I hope you have an undo button somewhere in your agency you might roll back if the Legislature finds the will to do so.”

Ricchio said the administration believes the exemptions provide needed flexibility, but their collective bargaining rights could be restored with no impact.

“Whether these folks are classified or exempt, the work is being done,” Ricchio told the committee. “That work is being done in the same way. I think it does give us flexibility in the long run.

“But at this point, it would be very easy to roll back to the classified service. And I don’t think it would hurt our customers to do so.”

The hearing came amidst growing opposition – and legislative irritation – over the law consolidating several functions and agencies into the new CTS and Department of Enterprise Services. Legislators have publicly scolded the administration for assuring them during deliberations last spring on ESSB 5931 that only about 30 high-level managers would be exempted from civil service and bargaining.

Instead, the agency proposed exempting 157 members (thanks to union bargaining, three have had their rights restored so far).

“The way the bill is being implemented and the scope of employees who are being removed from civil service in our opinion far exceeds what was contemplated by the Legislature and what was talked about during the meetings that were privy to,” Griffing told the committee.

Federation members analyzed the exemptions and concluded about 73 percent of the agency would be exempt – even greater than the conservative estimate of 66 percent, she said.

“Based on the meetings that we were privy to last year, I find it hard to believe that as you were voting on this bill that this is what you were envisioning,” Griffing said.

“I don’t believe this represents the more flexible, nimble agency that will attract and retain qualified workers. We urge you to revisit this issue next year and tighten up the broad language used in the bill, which is how they are sweeping up these additional employees.”

One of the affected members moved from the Department of Information Services to CTS and exempted is Jeff Paulsen.

He told the committee said his salary is basically locked in – there’s no real difference between his classified job and his new job title in the exempt band.

“One of the issues we heard about in the lead up to this bill was the problems with recruitment and retention,” Paulsen told the committee.

“We’ve been told through salary surveys that our compensation is roughly 25 to 30 or more percent behind the private sector. What this bill does…locks us in at the salaries that we’re at, it doesn’t give them any flexibility to grow in the future. So that will hurt recruitment and it will hurt retention. It will not help solve those problems.”

If the administration gets away with this Wisconsin-style scheme here, it will have a chilling effect throughout state government, said Steve Pointec, an IT worker in the Employment Security Department.

“People can be fired for any reason without showing just cause,” Pointec said. “This has turned IT workers into patronage workers. This has put fear into workers in all agencies. …

“Who will work for the state when they know that they could be put into the street at any time?”

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