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Union Change

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Northeastern University | Union and civil service reform | Increasing productivity in the public sector | | Lauren Patrick | Professor Marion Mason |
POLS7305 34800 Institutional Leadership SEC 01
April 22, 2011

Executive Summary The target audience is the City of Boston labor management commission and the Massachusetts legislature. The current collective bargaining agreement between the City of Boston and AFSCME and the Massachusetts Legislature, Title IV, Chapter 31 creates controlling and overly-bureaucratic policies. These policies outline employee procedures, in particular hiring, disciplining, promoting and evaluation procedures that are outdated and ineffective. Unions protect employees from unfair employment practices, yet some have hurt the overall staff morale and productivity. There is a deep and long standing perception of public employees that they are lazy and incompetent. This is far from the truth, but certain policies regarding hiring, promoting, and disciplinary actions are decreasing employee productivity. To incorporate motivational elements in the public sector and give more discretion to public managers, policies must be changed. When a manager would like to promote an employee, it is a long and drawn out process, that often after much effort is exhibited, the potential promotion falls through. Where the private sector motivates through financial incentives and promotions, the public sector has no tools to promote good work ethics. A public sector promotion must follow procedures and the department must open the promotion to every qualified employee in every City department, interview qualified applicants and finally chose the applicant most qualified. It’s obvious to see that the procedure is ineffectual as in the end the hiring authority will pick the original candidate. Public managers need more power and influence over their staff to increase productive behavior. Currently, hiring, promoting or disciplining is not at the discretion of the public manager and therefore they often lack the authority or tools to motivate their staff. Evaluations, although required, have been said to be “thrown into a black hole” and staff do not take them seriously. Due to technology, the public sector is transparent and the critical media is just waiting for employees to mess up and hire their dimwitted brother or be caught posting negative substance on social media sites. This transparency allows unions and civil service to step back and give managers more power because they managers understand that a mistake may have dire consequences to their career. This increased transparency as well as poor economic conditions resulting in budget and staff cuts for the public sector and in increased demand for quality services gives reason to the necessity for policy reform. The public sector must be as effective and efficient as possible to meet the demands of the public and continue to provide quality services given less resources. The following paper outlines options to consider. Alternative 1 proposes keeping the current policy. Alternative 2 proposes moving specific human resource elements out of the central office and giving power to public manager. Alternative 3 proposes to radically decentralizing each office to have its own authority in all employee-conditional decision-making.

Each alternative has advantages and disadvantages. Alternative 1, to stay status quo would not incur additional costs associated with the other 2 options. People are comfortable with staying the same, and many politicians would prefer this option. The downfall is that, explained above, change is a necessity. Alternative 3 provides a way for agencies to break free and start fresh, building the positive elements of the policy that do in fact aid in a productive work environment. Managers would have complete control to make decisions and this will increase productivity as they can fire wasteful employees and promote those that continuously meet the company’s goals. The downside is that the entire alternative, could create unfair business practices and the political ramifications are that it would never be passed. Alternative 2 will give more discretion to the public manager and can create a culture that can motivate, reward or discipline staff, ultimately increasing productivity and utilizing taxpayer dollars in a less wasteful way. The disadvantageous could create a system where some current managers may continue to abuse the system. The City will need to put more money into hiring practices. Mayor or other elected officials may not be able to fulfill positions like they used to.

Alternative 2 is the recommended course of action. It has its setbacks, and will be costly in terms of time and funds, but it creates a culture that fosters productivity and eliminates waste. And in today’s climate, to be as effective and efficient as possible is critical. It is not as radical as alternative 3 nor does it alienate groups, therefore politicians may be more apt to support it.

Statement of purpose
This paper is to bring to the attention of the unions representing public sector employees and Massachusetts legislature that certain policies need to be reformed to improve overall productivity. It is a common misconception that public employees are lazy and incompetent. Motivational elements like promotions, raises and disciplinary actions are grossly underutilized in the public sector departments. Union policies are set in place to promote fair treatment and equality, but in turn are hurting the accountability and productivity levels overall in the industry.

The perception of productivity in the public sector is low, but it’s at a time where productivity has to be at its more effective and efficient. Managers do not have the authority to promise rewards like raises and promotions, nor do they have the ability to let a staff member go when they are no longer upholding their civil duties. The unions have more power than the managers, and this is a problem. The public sector must work with limited resources to achieve the increasing demands from the public, and to ensure this sector meets its goals we need to reduce wasteful and abusive employees and increase motivational elements for managers to increase productivity within their units.

Unions are important and quite strong in Massachusetts. We are not proposing specific modifications to particular elements within the bargaining agreement mass legislature to improve productivity including allowing public managers more authority to encourage positive behavior and eliminate negative ones, as well as improving the evaluation procedures. Status quo is no longer an option as increased demands and fewer resources are weighing on the public sector. To stay competitive, public sector leaders need to have the authority to delegate rewards and discipline when necessary to retain the best and brightest ensuring continual improvement and increased productivity.

Current Policy
The current policy is overly bureaucratic, burdensome, and rule oriented. It is highly centralized with control coming from the top and not trickling down. When decisions must be made, involving human resources, it must be presented to the central office and they have final say in all matters related. Although the laws have been created to stop patronage hiring, it is still commonplace for the town executive or department head to hire his or her friend or political supporter. The emphasis is on longevity and punctuality rather than productivity when it comes to evaluations.

Through negotiations with the unions and City, bargaining agreements have been created to explain who is hired, who is fired, how people are promoted, and who can ‘bump’ lower standing employees, among other items. Unions protect employees from unfair employment practices, yet some have hurt the overall staff morale and productivity. In a poll released in the beginning of April, it said that 70% of Americans believe that private sector employees work harder than their public sector counterparts. Concluded from this perception, the current system is not working in improving the public’s perception of productivity among public sector employees.

The following section briefs the Boston collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest union representing government workers, as well as the Massachusetts Legislative Laws, in particular Part I, Title IV, Chapter 31, which highlights civil service laws related to the evaluation system required of public sector companies, yet they are severely unenforced.

AFSCME Citywide 2006-2010 In article 11 Section 5, it states in regards to promotions and filling vacancies: The selection of an employee for provisional appointment or provisional promotion shall be made from among the eligible bidders. Notice of the selection shall be posted on the original posting at the time the selection is made. Selection shall be made on the basis of qualifications and ability; and where they are equal, seniority is the decisive factor. The appointing authority’s selection shall not be made arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably. This gives procedures for the hiring authority to follow when hiring or promoting. It states that hiring should not be made randomly or without significant thought. This is usually followed, not too many people are hired on a whim, as much thought is usually put into the person hired, although in the public sector it’s often done before the hiring process even begins. Someone from the top has a person in mind that they owe a favor, that supported them in a race, or they have a friend and they have in mind to fill the vacancy. Walk into a Boston Public office and you will see that 9 out of 10 employees that fit this category. Promotions are controlled by the personnel department, not the manager. They seldom have anything to do with performance. And although a good public manager will build support and a strong coalition of employees, these employees are not necessarily their friends or supporters, but the most qualified candidate for the position. In article 11A – Layoff and Recall, it provides descriptions for bumping someone or consent to be demoted upon layoff. People being laid off can bump into a vacancy in the same job classification within the Department, in a different job classification within the Department which is at the same pay grade, into a filled position in an equal graded job classification within the Department which is held by an employee who has less seniority then himself/herself series, into a vacancy in a lower graded job classification within the Department provided that such lower graded classification is in the employee’s job series; or into a filled position in a lower graded job classification within the Department, which is held by an employee, who has less seniority than himself/herself provided that such equal or lower graded job classification is in the employee’s job series.

Article 6 Section 1 - Disciplines and Discharge states that no employee who has completed one hundred and twenty days of actual work shall be disciplined, suspended, or discharged except for just cause. In Section 2 an employee in such position or in any position which is neither classified nor deemed to be classified under Civil Service law and rules and who has completed his or her six-month probationary period shall not be discharged except for just cause.

These union rules create lots of red tape for public managers to discipline or let employees go. The process of dismissal is so time consuming, few managers ever fire anyone. Instead managers tolerate incompetents, transfer them, or bump them upstairs. Unless an employee severely breaks a law, they will not be let go for any reason other than mass layoffs due to budget cuts. Walk down the halls of a government building, however, and you will see at least one person surfing the web, playing solitaire, taking a personal phone call, or any other sort of activity that is counterproductive. Public managers cannot fire an employee for being severely unproductive, yet this encourages wasteful tax allocation. Public managers can’t even discipline someone for participating in unethical behaviors that are not severe enough to warrant media attention.

Massachusetts Legislature Part I, Title IV, Chapter 31

Section 6A - Performance Evaluation System states that the administrator shall establish a program for the implementation of a performance evaluation system for all civil service employees. In the development of the performance evaluation system for municipal civil service employees the administrator shall, in conjunction with representatives of the collective bargaining units to be evaluated and the Massachusetts Municipal Association, determine their form, method and general criteria. The evaluation system shall, to the maximum extent possible, evaluate on the basis of objective criteria, job performance, and the results of such evaluations may be utilized by the department or the appointing authority in future personnel determinations. The weight given to performance evaluation in promotional decisions for civil service positions shall be determined by the administrator in conjunction with representatives of collective bargaining units containing the titles to be tested. Certain stipulations are given to performing evaluations: * An employee serving in a civil service position may be evaluated no more than twice each year by the employee’s immediate supervisor. * All performance evaluations shall be in writing and shall be maintained as part of the employee’s records by his appointing authority until such employee leaves civil service employment or as otherwise prescribed by the administrator. * Prior to each evaluation period, the immediate supervisor shall inform the employee of the general performance dimensions and the procedures to be utilized in evaluating the employee’s performance. The supervisor shall also inform the employee that such evaluation may be utilized by the department or the appointing authority in future personnel determinations. * After such evaluation has been conducted, the immediate supervisor shall confer with the employee concerning the evaluation. Upon the completion of the employee’s review of such evaluation, the employee shall sign the evaluation indicating whether he agrees or disagrees with the evaluation. If the employee so desires, he or, with the employee’s consent, his collective bargaining agent, may be provided a copy of such evaluation.
Although evaluations are spelled out clearly here, specifying who gives, how many times, the weight given, etc… there is no enforcement or accountability for performing proper evaluations or even giving them at all. Evaluation time is a running joke in many government offices. If they are fulfilled, they are put in a file and never looked at again. They have become so underutilized and inefficient that many managers no longer bother with the process. The evaluation giver has most likely never been trained no how to properly give an evaluations and will often either give high marks all around, or middle marks all around, where it is no longer a useful tool.

Statement of necessity for change
The current system must be reformed. The public sector is being hit hard by budget cuts and layoffs. All departments are feeling the pinch. The unions and state legislature must change the current policies to find ways to increase productivity to ensure the highest quality services are produced in the most efficient and effective way possible. Changes from the top down need to occur in order to make this change a reality.

In addition to limited resources, technology has changed the face of the public sector. The public sector is easily scrutinized and under a critical eye at all times. Emerging municipal technologies make government accessible to the public at all times, but as a consequence, this sector is becoming incredibly transparent for all to see how time, funds and other resources are spent and delegated. This increased transparency, as well as the combination of scarce resources with a higher demand of services, illustrates the necessity for change in order to find better policies that will ensure increased staff productivity to continue to provide quality services to the public.

There are alternatives available to improving the current situation, but one option we must consider is to keep the current policy as is. Alternatives to this option include modifying the policy, or completely decentralize the agencies to govern their own human resource elements. Modifications to the existing policy will give more authority to public managers in making decisions on hiring, firing, disciplining and financial incentives, as well as enforcement of better quality evaluation procedures. The latter option, to radically decentralize is to give complete authority to each agency that wishes to remove itself so that they can have their own rules and procedures, and have complete power over all decisions involving human resources. The following explains the alternatives to the status quo and the pros and cons to each.

Alternative 1 – Status Quo

As the status quo is staying the same and not making changes, it’s easy to understand that this is not a viable option, but will most likely be the conclusion. Making changes in unions is very difficult and time consuming. To stay stagnant, however, in a world that is continually changing, will leave the public sector in the dark and ultimately hurt the constituents it serves. As it is, the government agencies are riddled with burdensome rules and regulations, exhaustive procedures, and ineffectual employees that don’t care to push the policies forward, where they simply die without someone speaking up. Evaluation procedures in the current system are almost non-existent, or if they are administered they are filed away and never looked at again. For the politicians, this is a beneficial policy – they remain at the top and hire the people that have supported them and only fire when there are budget cuts.

There are positives elements to the current system, despite its numerous downfalls. In the short term, to stay the same will not incur the additional costs that the other options will incur. The other options, explained in detail later, will sustain costs including more time spent securing hires and following laws to appropriately discipline, as well as training to better give and utilize evaluations. Additionally, the current option creates consistency within the system that people are comfortable with.

Alternative 2 – Decentralize certain human resource elements

The second option is to modify the existing policy so that certain elements related to human resources are given to the agencies, particularly hiring decisions, disciplining, and financial incentives like promotions and raises. In addition, the evaluation process will change and improve. Instead of one-sided evaluations, where the manager evaluates his or her staff, now the staff can participate in evaluating their supervisor as well. These changes also mean that the HR department in each agency must either be implemented or restructured.

Public managers need more power and influence over their staff to increase productive behavior. Currently, hiring, promoting or disciplining is not at the discretion of the public manager and therefore they often lack authority to motivate their staff. Allowing the manager in charge, with collaboration with the HR department to hire qualified candidates based on abilities and qualifications will improve the quality of the work force overall.

Another example of how to improve productivity is to allow managers to promote or provide raises to those employees that display productive work ethics. The City will remain in control of salary caps, but will create and give managers pay scales to reward good behavior. For example, the City will set Sarah’s pay cap based on her pay grade, but will create a pay scale that the manager will be able to incrementally reward as Sarah continues to be a productive employee. There must be a measurable element involved to show how Sarah has been productive, however. During the improved and mandated evaluation, which will be explained below, Sarah and her manager will set measurable goals for Sarah to achieve in either the next year, or half-year. The goals must be approved by the HR unit. If Sarah can accomplish the set goals, and her manager feels she deserves a raise, she can petition with the HR in her department to secure a raise. She no longer has to go through the central command, or jump Sarah into a new job title which can take a long time and has to go through so many hands before a final decision is made. The manager now has to create mutual goals and if they are met by the employee, show HR to secure the incremental increase.

Evaluations, although required, have been said to be “thrown into a black hole” and not utilized to their full potential. It is commonly known that the evaluations go nowhere and therefore both managers and staff do not take them seriously. To measure performances, evaluations must be mandatory at least once a year and built upon so that both the manager and the staff can see improvements or areas where they need to work on. In addition, allow public managers to discipline without fear of negative backlash or grievances.

To improve the quality of evaluations, training sessions that explain the importance of evaluations, as well as evaluating techniques must be required for each manager, as well as new managers that are hired on after the fact. Many supervisors evaluate by either giving all high marks, or all middle ground marks. They see the evaluation as a waste of time and therefore do not put much thought into it. Managers will also be evaluated by his or her staff, in a 360-degree evaluation process, which will be anonymous however. Many subordinates do not feel comfortable being honest about their feelings towards their managers, thus the evaluation will be given to employees and submitted to HR for their review.

The improved and more effective evaluation system will also support disciplining mechanisms to try to eliminate unproductive behavior. No manager can let an employee go on a whim, or because of personality clashes, but with documented support that shows the employee exhibits continually unproductive behavior will be disciplined in a less time-consuming and controlling way as the current situation. The first time the manager brings to the attention of the HR unit that the employee is not meeting his or her goals, the employee will receive a written letter. The second time, the employee will be put on probation and must bring his or her behavior up to a considerably higher productive level and maintain that productivity. If at any time he or she falls again, dismissal will be the result.

This new decentralized HR policy will increase productivity by allowing managers to provide incentives for their staff to work towards. The public manager will have more discretion and can therefore motivate, reward or discipline staff, ultimately increasing productivity and utilizing taxpayer dollars in a less wasteful way. The new policy will allow managers to hire more qualified candidates by creating a more attractive pay incentive and a faster response system to hiring due to the decentralized decision-making. There is a downside though to this policy. Some current managers may abuse the system because of their new authority. They may tweak evaluations to give their favorite employee unfair advantages, or discipline an employee because they don’t like him or her. The evaluation training will cost money and time and many employees may not be privy to the change. In addition, the Mayor or other elected officials may not be able to fulfill positions like they used to. The policy will take time to develop as well as extra time out of manager’s day to execute it properly. Alternative 3 – Give agencies complete authority The third alternative is a bit more radical in thought, but helps start a clean plate for many agencies. This idea has been in concept for many years, and in 1992 took root, although not amounting to much then. Agencies that wish to completely decentralize themselves in all human resource matters may create their own personnel policies, not governed by a central office. As well, they will practice aggressive recruitment standards to attract the best and brightest, and faster dismissal without any red tape to eliminate wasteful employees. Grievances will be eliminated for conditions of employment and evaluations. The personnel policies will be created separately and each agency will have their own variation, defining hiring practices, raises and promotions, merit systems, and dismissal actions. The hiring authority makes his or her hiring decision based on qualifications outlined in the personnel handbook. The recruitment process will be much more aggressive, and does not need to be advertised solely on the City’s website. Positions can be advertised wherever the hiring manager feels it will be effective. The manager can offer salaries that look at qualifications of the candidate being hired, not the set pay given to that position. Managers will also have authority to provide raises or promotions when they feel an employee is deserving of this incentive. The manager does not need to apply for the incentive through the central office. Firing decisions will be streamlined and the public manager, overseeing the delinquent employee can let the employee go based on his or her opinion of that employee’s productivity. The manager does not need to go through central, and the employee cannot grieve decision. Compared to alternative 2, this gives much more power to the manager; however employees do not have the option to fight unfair labor practices, except through expensive lawyers. Pros of the radical policy are that agencies have complete authority over who they hire, provide incentives for or let go. Productivity will be increased substantially as people that are dead wait in the office will be fired and those that exhibit productive work behavior will be rewarded. People will be motivated to work more effectively and efficiently. Aggressive recruitment options allow the agency to look for candidates in a larger pool of qualified people, instead of the list offered through central as is the case in the current policy. There is less bureaucracy all around, improving efficiency of human resource management. The consequences of this policy, however, are numerous. Breaking away from the central agency is daunting and many agencies may lack the necessary resources available to take on the task and do it properly. Giving aggregated control to managers completely goes against what the unions believe to be effective business strategies, as they could still hire their friend, or fire for illegitimate reasons. The entire alternative, in fact, could create unfair business practices. Veterans and minority groups would argue that this policy would put them behind in their pursuit of equality, and considering they are both large voting groups, politicians therefore, would not support such policies. This alternative is more radical in thought than the current policy or the second alternative described above. The current policy is safe and in the short term does not incur additional costs; however it is hurting productivity and in the long run creating an inefficient system that is wasting tax payer dollars and not allowing managers to promote or discipline when necessary. The latter alternative gives complete authority to each agency and allows them to start fresh, writing their own personnel policies whereas the other policies must still go through central, however the second option gives slightly more flexibility.

Recommendation As stated above, the current policy, although safe, creates an unproductive atmosphere where employees have no incentive to work harder. Although no incurred cost in the short term, technological advances, poor economic climate and higher demand of services, calls for a reform in the existing ways of doing business in the public sector. We must create organizations that use their time and funds as effectively and efficiently as possible, therefore the current option is not a viable one.

Alternative 3 does revolutionize the current policy, but at what cost? This option, although considered by many politicians before, may put agencies back years and generate cultures that unions were created for to fight against. Minority groups and veterans wouldn’t have the protection for equality they have with the current policy and therefore would never support a politician in favor of such reform. Alternative 3, although having many advantageous qualities to increase productivity, would never stand a chance.

Alternative 2, modifying the current policy, but doing so in a more conservative way, is the best option. Although it has its setbacks, and will be costly in terms of time and funds, it creates a culture that fosters productivity and eliminates waste. Managers have more power to provide incentives to entice their staff to work harder, or stop unproductive behavior. Raises and promotions will not be provided at will, but by measurable elements that show to the manager, the employee, and the newly improved human resource department that this employee deserves a raise because of his or her productivity. It also helps attract and retain the best and brightest due to faster processing time and more attractive salary and incentive options.

Bargaining negotiations begin soon and this would be a good time to introduce the changes to the Union. Although it’s too soon to take affect during these negotiations, building support and a strong case will be necessary during the next four years. Below is a timeline of steps to implement alternative 2.

The evaluation process is something that is already required through civil service laws; therefore agencies do not need to wait for unions to go through negotiations to begin improving the situation. Funds for training and development of public manager to give improved evaluations may have to be allocated in the next fiscal year’s budget however. Human Resource department should begin researching the best learning method for their department, as well as costs associated. Certain training methods that may be options are training conferences or companies that train in-house on the best methods for giving effective evaluations. Report to the budget office or finance department on the findings and provide clear reasons of the importance of the training.

The human resource department should meet with each department to explain the importance of evaluations and how they will be critical mechanisms in providing incentives for their staff. Explain the process of developing measurable goals for their staff to achieve, which will then be approved by the department head. The evaluations will be built upon each other and looked at twice a year to see if the employee is meeting his or her goals. Explain that this will also be used a tool to discipline staff that are not achieving his or her goal on a consistent basis.

Preparation phase
Begin forming collaborations with agencies to create support for the reform. Explain the reasons for the reform and the new policy looks like. Support is critical to win the approval during the collective bargaining negotiations. Look at other municipalities that have reformed the system and set up meetings to discuss best practices to help win your case.

There must be an evaluation created to measure how well the new policy will work out. Therefore measurable goals must be created. Department heads, middle managers, lower-level staff and community groups with direct involvement with the agency at hand should participate in the evaluation and answer questions about improvements on productivity. Measurable criteria could include timeliness of programs and services, quantity of staff involved in finishing projects, response time to constituents, number of new innovative programs in a specified time-frame, etc…

Four Years Later - Negotiations
Negotiations begin and the preparation was the key to facilitating the best alternative to the hopeful outcome. Initial proposals will begin the negotiation process. In the end, the Mayor and City Council have to okay the collective bargaining agreement, but with good preparation and realistic, but conservative modifications, and with support from agencies, they may agree to it. Conclusion Upon approval, managers will receive more power in making crucial decisions that affect the productivity of their employees. In order to ensure this policy works, however, hiring quality upper-level management is imperative. It will only be successful when the management adhere to ethical work habits and portray behaviors that they would want their staff to mimic. The media has a watchful eye, and if this policy was in fact passed, they would be knocking on the public sector door just waiting for someone to mess up. Although nerve-wracking, this will help the policy succeed as managers will be careful to follow the rules and hire the most qualified candidate for the position, promote based on merit, and fire staff that is wasting tax money.

[ 1 ]. The mission of the Office of Labor Relations is to create and promote a work environment that fosters a positive and effective relationship between labor and management. The Office of Labor Relations represents the Mayor/City of Boston/Departments in all labor matters before state courts, state agencies, and various other forums. The Office of Labor Relations is also responsible for negotiating and administering the collective bargaining agreements with approximately seventeen unions and twenty-four bargaining units covering over twelve thousand employees. In addition, the Office of Labor Relations provides training and advice to managers and supervisors on labor issues.
[ 2 ].
[ 3 ].
[ 4 ].
[ 5 ].
[ 6 ].
[ 7 ]. Walters, Jonathan 2000. Toward a high-performance workplace: fixing civil service in Massachusetts. Governing Magazine

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