N.J. Court Rejects Christie Administration Job Banding Rule

In a December 1st decision, a New Jersey appeals court rightfully rejected Governor Christie’s far-reaching changes to the state’s promotion process for certain state employees. The NJ Civil Service Commission implemented a job banding rule— which would group a series of job titles into one band, allowing management to freely appoint and promote workers from lower to high titles in these bands regardless of requirements for civil service tests and veteran preference.

The court’s ruling comes after two-and-a-half years of relentless work by CWA. The measures the Civil Service Commission sought to go around had been a part of New Jersey’s civil service system for decades. The court’s ruling denies the Christie Administration’s attempts to gut objective standards for hiring & promotion and rightfully recognizes the state Legislature’s authority to ensure public jobs are not based on political connections and favoritism, but merit and fitness.

“For over a century, the Civil Service System has been based on the idea that people are appointed and promoted based on a system of objectively-determined merit and fitness. From his first day in office, Governor Christie has been obsessed with dismantling this fair, transparent system which protects the public from patronage and discrimination,” said CWA NJ Area Director Hetty Rosenstein. “So, I am extremely heartened that the Court repudiated Christie’s sneaky scheme to dismantle civil service by ignoring the will of the people, the legislature, the law and our system of checks and balances.”

Governor Christie’s job banding rule implemented sweeping changes to the promotional process for non-uniformed state employees and gutted modest taxpayer protections from patronage, favoritism, and corruption. Christie’s scheme sought to create more patronage and corruption by limiting valuable public oversight of which employees are performing specific tasks and what jobs are paid.  It replaced promotions for workers based on objective qualifications and done based on a transparent and objective testing process with “advancement” through the employment “bands.”  The “advancement” would be done solely at the discretion of management. It would not be subject to minimum qualifications requirements or public oversight.  This undermined promotions for those deserving and subjected promotions to the whims of political pressure, allowing the politically connected to get ahead at the expense of those who are deserving. Simply put, Christie’s proposal handed power over to politicians and backroom players, at the expense of both good government and New Jersey’s taxpayers.

Moreover, Christie’s changes also allowed his administration to gut veterans’ preference in promotions for most positions in state government. Since the testing process is the only place that veterans’ preference exists in New Jersey Civil Service, it replaced a clear commitment to our state’s veterans with a “trust me” system.  Management would merely be directed to weigh veterans’ status in their own minds when making decisions about advancement.

In 2013 and 2014, CWA successfully urged the New Jersey Legislature to pass resolutions invalidating the job banding rule— citing Christie’s Civil Service Commission in violation of state civil service law and the state Constitution. In spite of those resolutions, the Commission disregarded the Legislature and moved to implement job banding. CWA, joined by the Legislature, then filed an appeal against the Governor’s Civil Service Commission for violating the resolutions taken by the Legislature.

This is a victory for workers, taxpayers, and democracy in New Jersey. The court’s decision to vacate job banding restores the core intent of the civil service system to see that the way our government hires is open and transparent and that New Jersey’s working men and women have a system that protects the public and makes jobs accessible to everyone.