Protect Wisconsin’s Civil Service System

  • Birthday Cake - Wisconsin Civil Sercice

By Phil Anderson and Joyce Luedke

Wisconsin’s merit Civil Service System is a model to the nation and the major safeguard against corruption in government. Several proposals in the 2015-2017 state budget threaten to weaken the Civil Service System in Wisconsin. The goal of these proposals is to consolidate power under the governor by increasing political control of the hiring process of all public employees.

Civil service laws provide for non-political hiring of public employees based on competitive examinations and objective experience ratings. The purpose is to identify qualified job applicants based on merit and not political connections or contributions. Wisconsin’s Civil service system was created 110 years ago replacing the corrupt political patronage practices of the time.

Two people playing guitar and piano

Rick March (Guitar) and “Pianoman” Richard Shaten (Piano) – Photo Credit – Norm Littlejohn

The proposed changes in the budget would reduce the status of the independent Office of State Employment Relations (OSER) from its own stand-alone agency to a division within the Department of Administration (DOA). The Legislature would no longer have a role in approving the administrator of Merit Recruitment and Selection within OSER, the primary person administering Civil Service Law.

Instead, this administrator would be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the DOA Secretary. These changes would jeopardize OSER’s nonpartisan tendencies in administering civil service law and OSER’s ability to stop political patronage within state government. Changes proposed in this budget would subject all new state hiring decisions to more political pressures and open the Civil Service to crony appointments in every state job.

The Walker administration has proposed other changes that could weaken Wisconsin’s successful progressive traditions of public service.

***Converting 37 upper management civil service positions to new political appointment positions gives the Walker administration unprecedented control over the agency’s budgets and activities.

***Eliminating 66 DNR positions, many of which are scientific positions that aid in water, air, and groundwater management and regulation. The DNR is a scientific organization and must have sound science on which to base its decisions.

***Moving Workers Compensation, a completely self-funded world class agency, from the Department of Workforce Development to the DOA.

***Making the DNR secretary an appointee of the governor instead of an appointee of the Natural Resources Board.

***Beginning July 1st, University of Wisconsin employees will fall under new and separate personnel systems that are not under OSER’s purview, in a changed dictated by Act 32 passed in 2011. This change compromises Civil Service protections for UW’s classified staff and reduces or eliminates employee access to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Banner saying happy birthday

Photo Credit – Norm Littlejohn

Civil service is protective of taxpayers’ interests. State employees with Civil Service protections can prioritize serving the public because there is some limited recourse if they must refuse orders that are unethical or illegal

Bill Franks, a state employee for decades and former Chief Steward for the Wisconsin Professional Employee Council said, “Civil service is as relevant today as it was in 1905. Public agencies should serve citizens, rather than corporate special interests, and the Civil Service System promotes these priorities.”

“I think we need tools to fight corruption,” said Marty Kehrein, who was a state employee for over 34 years and a member of the Wisconsin State Inspectors Union AFSCME Local 333. “Rewarding campaign donors by giving them lucrative public contracts or easing up on regulations is not how Wisconsin’s government should run. The Civil Service System enhances fairness and transparency in the public sector.”

We need to protect and strengthen the Wisconsin’s successful civil service system, not replace it with the failed political patronage practices of the past.

“These quotes are from a press release announcing a “Birthday Party to Mark Wisconsin’s Civil Service Anniversary” (June 17th) sponsored by the Wisconsin Professional Employees Council (WPEC) and distributed by email to WPEC and AFT-WI members.”