published Monday, April 30th, 2012

Common sense in Nashville

Suppose you opened a restaurant and hired two chefs: Mathilda and Ingrid.

Over a period of months, you notice that Mathilda is inattentive, often burning entrees, and that she regularly shows up late for work. You warn her about these habits, yet they continue. Ingrid, by contrast, takes great pride in her work, producing meals that win compliments from patrons. She also is punctual.

Eventually, you give Ingrid a raise in recognition of the financial benefit that her good efforts bring to your business.

But you reduce Mathilda's wages and tell her you will have to replace her with another chef if she does not improve her work habits. That's not a pleasant task, but you realize that if Mathilda's poor performance gives your restaurant a bad reputation, it will cost the business money and harm good and bad employees alike. Moreover, you know that if you keep them at the same pay level, Ingrid may lose her motivation because she sees that there is no incentive for working harder.

We doubt many people would second guess a restaurant owner who took those commonsense steps to keep his business running.

And yet, starkly different principles often guide government. At the federal level in particular, workers in many departments have almost absolute job security.

Not one of the more than 1,800 Federal Communications Commission employees nor one of the nearly 1,200 Federal Trade Commission employees was fired or laid off in the 2009-2010 budget year, for example, and the story was similar in many other areas of the federal government.

While the situation is not quite so absurd in Tennessee government, civil service rules have made it unnecessarily difficult to dismiss state employees or to differentiate between workers who perform well and those who do not.

Those days appear to be coming to an end, however.

Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed into law some significant revisions of civil service rules for workers in state government.

The changes are necessary, if hardly revolutionary. Among other things, they will make it less cumbersome to hire or dismiss executive branch workers, and they will provide for pay increases -- or reductions -- for employees based on their performance. In addition, they will require only a 30-day, not an impractical three-month, notice about pending layoffs.

The overhaul of civil service rules makes sense but leaves one question that may never be answered satisfactorily: Why didn't it happen sooner?

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EaTn said...

Why didn't it happen sooner? It's called political patronage which will continue as long as we have politicians dependent on friends and family time and money to get elected.

April 30, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
conservative said...

I constantly saw the same in a private sector company which had a union. It was very difficult to fire the sorriest worker when he or she was in the union. The women could not do the work so were given easier tasks and of course received the same pay due to government mandated quotas.

April 30, 2012 at 8:42 a.m.

This is a story, but that's all it is.

You can make them up to say whatever you want.

Let's try another story.

Say you have one chef, with excellent performance, who says that the kitchen is not up to standards. Numerous and expensive changes will have to be made to bring it up to code, or the health and safety of the workers and customers will be at risk. This will impact your bottom line. But that chef just won't shut up about fixing things, despite what it'll cost.

And then there's your other chef, who for some reason is in such desperate straits that they need the paycheck, they don't have to live upon long enough to find another job. She'll shut up and do what you tell her, regardless of the risk to herself or others. She's not as good as the first chef, but at least she won't nag you.

There's a reason why Civil Service employees are protected. It's so they can give proper advice and can't be tossed out at will when it's convenient to find somebody more complacent.

Can it be abused? Sure. But so can being able to fire them at will. Please learn your history first. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was written for a reason, not because of a made-up story with an agenda.

April 30, 2012 at 7:56 p.m.
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