WV Senate bill would eliminate civil service for state employees

All West Virginia state employees could be fired at any time under a bill up for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, lead sponsor of the bill (SB 408) to end civil service protection for employees, said it would make state agencies more nimble and flexible in addressing personnel matters, making it easier to hire state employees, promote good employees and remove poor employees.

“We have excellent employees working for the state in all branches of government, and we also have others that don’t meet that standard,” Trump said Thursday.

However, Communications Workers of America representative Elaine Harris said the bill would take away what little job security state workers have.

“There’s no checks and balances with this bill. It wipes out everything,” said Harris, who represents Division of Corrections workers, among other state employee groups.

“These are hardworking, low-paid, and oftentimes, not-respected state workers that struggle each and every day,” she said. “This is the last thing they need to worry about.”

Civil service laws date back to the 19th century. They are intended to quash political hiring, firing and a spoils system for public employees, creating a system of hiring and promotions based on qualifications and seniority.

Trump said he wants to eliminate a “culture of grievance” in state government.

According to the state Public Employees Grievance Board annual report, state employees filed more than 1,200 grievances in 2016, most often for compensation, disciplinary actions or non-disciplinary employment actions, including transfers, reductions in force or other actions. A significant number of grievances alleged violations of state or federal laws or regulations by employers.

Harris said the proposed legislation would leave state employees with no protections in the workplace.

“There are good bosses and there are bad bosses. If somebody doesn’t like you, they can find ways to make things difficult, or sometimes, make you lose your job,” she said. “If there’s an issue in the Division of Personnel, let’s fix it, rather than broad-brush wipe out a system that’s working.”

Besides eliminating civil service and making all state employees at-will employees as of July 1, the bill would also change procedures for employee grievances, and has been amended to include provisions sought by Gov. Jim Justice to be able to furlough state employees during times of state fiscal emergencies.

The furlough provisions would authorize the governor to furlough state employees to address budget deficits or in the event the state budget has not been passed prior to the start of the new fiscal year, each July 1.

State employees would maintain state benefits during periods of furlough. Without that provision, if state government were to shut down if no state budget is passed by the start of the fiscal year, employees would effectively have to be terminated and rehired, potentially losing accrued benefits.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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