Loudly and clearly, municipal employees voiced opposition Thursday to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to end a policy that lets workers whose positions are eliminated “bump” those with less seniority in similar posts elsewhere in city government.
After hearing more than two hours of harsh criticism of the mayor’s plan from the City Hall rank-and-file, including members of its own staff, the Civil Service Commission deferred a vote on the matter until September at the earliest.
Some speakers complained that workers haven’t been given a chance to participate in the debate, while others said they fear changing the long-standing policy would be a first step toward stripping away job security.
Several employees expressed anxiety that the administration is proposing the move to set the stage for widespread layoffs.
Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said the change that Landrieu is seeking is “more modest than monumental.” Reiterating a position he has made in recent weeks, Kopplin said the administration has no plan for layoffs.
Commission Chairman William Forrester said he was hopeful that a delay would allow time for administration and commission staffers to “come together on a plan” more acceptable to the work force.
“There was a lot of good colloquy here today,” Forrester said, commending opponents and proponents for keeping the discussion calm and professional. “This is not a simple issue.”
Jerry Davis, the lone member elected by city workers, announced Thursday that he is retiring from his City Hall job. He said he will continue to serve until an election is called to replace him.
Forrester, whose six-year term ends today, is one of three nominees submitted by Tulane University to serve in the seat he now occupies. The City Council gets to make the selection.
The other names are the Rev. Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University, and lawyer Robert Vorhoff.
Some of the more pointed comments Thursday about the Landrieu plan came from Robert Hagmann, one of the commission’s personnel administrators, who told commissioners that city workers are “frightened” about what might happen.
“There’s been no dialogue with employees,” Hagmann said. “Rumors are abounding.”
He said abolishing the bumping rule would be “step backward from the merit-based system” that’s been in place for more than half a century.
“We don’t want to go back to the time of Huey P. Long,” Hagmann added.
Kopplin fired back that the administration has no “nefarious” motives to “dismantle protection against political interference.”
He labeled Hagmann’s statements “considerably overstated.”
Kopplin has called the current bumping policy “wasteful and inefficient,” arguing that it forces “square pegs … into round holes” by guaranteeing a senior worker a job in an unfamiliar department while displacing an experienced employee.
In addition, he said the process deprives affected departments of institutional knowledge and requires them to train new employees to do the jobs of those they replace. In the end, Kopplin said, taxpayers must pay a second time to train a new employee.
Tanya Wilson, a 22-year city employee who said she was “bumped” into her current Finance Department job, offered a spirited rebuttal of that point.
“We are not stupid,” she said. “We can be trained and it doesn’t take that long.”
Richard Sherman, an engineer in the Department of Public Works, said he views the change being proposed as a “first step” in the effort to dismantle civil service protections. For older, more experienced city workers, he said the “incentive will be to get out now.”
Jocelyn Evans, a 10-year Finance Department worker, said City Hall workers have gotten a bum rap for too many years.
“Government is dysfunctional not because of the people,” she said, “but because of the old equipment and the outdated technology.”
Rather than doing away with bumping entirely, the administration wants to restrict the practice to employees within the same “organizational unit,” defined as a department, agency, commission or office.
The proposed bumping change is just one facet of a major overhaul of the civil service system that Landrieu promised last year, including updating job classifications throughout city government.
The mayor has said employees whose jobs are consolidated or eliminated would be laid off and allowed to reapply for new posts, though the administration has missed an April deadline it set for completing the reorganization.
After the meeting, Kopplin said that while he believed the back-and-forth “helped shed more light on the issue,” he felt “there were many, many mountains made out of molehills.”
Kopplin said he is eager to use the debate “as a launching pad for a larger discussion” about a civil service overhaul, adding that he wants the staff to offer its own solutions.
Frank Donze can be reached at or 504.826.3328.