Last week brought many a happy puff piece in many a publication announcing the knighting of former mayor Michael Bloomberg in London. Meanwhile, back in the city in which he used his billions to obtain power and rule like a king for 12 excruciatingly long years — the rule of law and democracy be damned — came two less than happy stories dealing with the less majestic aspects of Bloomberg’s reign. It is a reign which, as will be seen, lingers on. Indeed, well into the mayoralty of Bill De Blasio, Bloomberg’s sordid rule remains deeply if insidiously entrenched.
One item, covered apparently only by Crain’s, dealt (kind of) with the legal aftermath of Bloomberg’s mass circumvention of hiring codes and state laws concerning civil servants. 37,000 of them, in fact. In direct violation of civil servant rules and state laws, Bloomberg did this by hiring the 37,000 as “provisional workers. “
“The state constitution dictates that governmental appointments be based on “merit and fitness,” and for many job classifications that is determined by scores on civil-service exams. In many cases, only the top three scorers are allowed to be interviewed for a position.”
Feeling “hamstrung” by the codes and laws, Bloomberg did what any self respecting CEO would do: he did exactly as he pleased.
“The mayor therefore had his agencies circumvent the system by hiring “provisional” employees. By 2007, nearly 37,000 were swelling the ranks of city government, occupying more than 19% of the “competitive” city job titles that were supposed to be filled based on exam scores.”
As “provisional employees”, the workers enjoyed exactly the kind of status Bloomberg and people who think like Bloomberg would like to impose on all workers everywhere: non union, “ at will” employees who could be fired at any time for any reason the Boss Man felt like using to fire them. As a bonus, such workers would be extremely unlikely to “call out managers’ misdeeds, including contracting abuses ” and the like. One has to admit, it is a brilliant system of political control.
This, of course, is precisely how the corporate world envisions all management/ labor relationships. That Bloomberg’s maneuver was a form of union busting – perhaps union preemption is a better way of describing it – is clear.
That it was an undermining of the meritocracy that America is supposed to be built on is also clear. That it is was transparently unfair is undeniable. What was the criteria for hiring these people ?
As working class New Yorkers know, the civil service has long been seen as an entry into the middle class.
But…Hard cheese old chap! Should have thought of that before you were born!
In complete concordance with the apotheosis of corporatism in American life, Crain’s reports Bloomberg’s maneuver, not as a scandal worthy of Boss Tweed and a dangerous throwback to an era of shameless patronage, but rather as a “brain drain “ for DeBlasio. In terms of contempt for the democratic process, the move is reminiscent of Bloomberg’s successful bribe of the City Council, which led to their overturning of not one but two referendums on term limits and the acquisition of his third term. Both are chilling examples of how deeply corporate values have eroded our remaining democratic institutions and sensibilities as well as our sense of simple fairness.
But never fear, Crain’s located a shill from the Manhattan Institute to explain that that fairness and merit are but antiquated 19th century will o the wisps, fit for garbage men perhaps, but far too unsophisticated for today’s world.
“The civil-service system was a progressive reform to ensure good government—but that was 100 years ago,” said Steve Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “Now there’s far more sophisticated technology and different types of positions. But you may still want this kind of test for someone working in the Sanitation Department. There are no easy answers to this.”
There are, of course, very easy answers to this and they have existed since the reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. The answers are to respect the laws outlawing patronage and to treat people fairly.
37,000 jobs is a whole lot of patronage, and it is not unreasonable to think a scandal of this proportion would have brought down the mayoralty of any other mayor who did not happen to be the richest man in the city he ruled.
How can we measure what this one man has done to our collective sense of democracy and law ?
The second item concerns the unconscionable month long suspension of a Department of Education occupational therapist named Debra Fisher for “ theft of services.” Her crime? Fisher helped run a Kick starter campaign for a 13 year old student with cerebral palsy and did so partly by sending emails from a DOE computer during school hours. That she did so with the knowledge of the principal made no difference.
Writes Jim Dwyer of the New York Times: “This is a story of an almost unfathomably mindless school bureaucracy at work: the crushing of an occupational therapist who had helped a young boy build a record of blazing success.”
Dwyer is right, of course, but he is omitting a key component, perhaps the key component in this particular mindless school bureaucracy. And that is the element of malice: malice that is the direct result of the orders of Michael R Bloomberg. Malice that remains, like Bloomberg’s “provisional workers “, long after Bloomberg has gone. Malice that employs the relentless power of the state to crush the state, the sooner to privatize everything in sight and unseen. Malice that is designed to utterly eviscerate any and all union — which is to say “human” — concerns and sensibilities.
While it is surely the nature of bureaucracies to find a rationale to perpetuate themselves, no one working in the department of education during Bloomberg’s reign could mistake the malevolence emanating from the Office of Special Investigations for bureaucratic inertia or a search for a reason to exist.
How many of Bloomberg’s “provisional workers” are OSI? Who knows ? All we know is that at least 4000 were employed in some capacity with the Dept. of Education.
At any rate, even if the average New Yorker remains oblivious or unconcerned with the wholesale corporatization of their city, hopefully the vicious idiocy behind the suspension of Debra Fisher will awaken Bill De Blasio and Carmen Farina to the fact that while Bloomberg may be gone, some of his most horrific policies remain firmly in place and will continue to do so until they are pulled out by the roots, an action that cannot come soon enough.