By Pablo Ros, AFSCME
AFSCME was founded in Wisconsin in 1932 to promote, defend and enhance the state’s civil service system, which was at risk of exploitation by politicians seeking to reward their supporters.
Ninety years ago, in the Midwest, we knew this much: any government that seeks to be for the people must leave politics out of hiring decisions. To provide quality public services and earn the people’s trust, government hiring must be merit-based, and government must treat workers with dignity and respect.
Since his election, President Donald Trump has been willfully ignoring this basic truth. Moreover, his administration seems guided by a radically different set of assumptions, namely that government exists to serve the executive and as such must be made up of the president’s loyalists. We have been on this path for three years and can see where it leads: a country in which the government puts the interests of the president above those of its own citizenry.
The Trump administration took the latest step along this path earlier this year when it allowed the outsourcing of the federal Employment Service functions to private contractors, undermining the merit-based system that helps guarantee the quality of such public services.
The Employment Service (ES) was created under the Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933 to help out-of-work Americans find jobs and rebuild their lives in times of need. Since then, it has operated under a merit system requirement designed to ensure that ES workers are appointed based on their qualifications and can provide access to unbiased retraining assistance, wage subsidies, job search assistance, health insurance tax credits, relocation assistance and other unemployment benefits.
But through a Department of Labor rule, the Trump administration is doing away with the merit system requirement – privatizing, politicizing and undermining these critical public services.
Sean Santmyire, a job specialist in Cumberland, Maryland, has worked with the ES for 16 years. He is a member of AFSCME Local 3641 (Council 3).
He says the new Trump administration rule sent a clear signal to ES merit staff, who are committed public service workers, that their job functions can easily be replaced. And he says it is already having a negative impact in his part of the state.
The rule encourages states to save money by hiring private workers who earn less, receive no benefits, and are unable to collectively bargain. Santmyire says the effect is to demoralize the current workforce and encourage turnover, as well as potentially making it harder for unionized workers to bargain with the state.
“We feel unappreciated right now,” he says.
In response to the Trump administration rule, AFSCME filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the rule is illegal since it violates the Wagner-Peyser Act as well as other laws, and is “the result of an arbitrary and capricious process of rulemaking.”
“Our union has fought for this merit-based system for decades, because public service workers are committed to their communities,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a statement. “The public deserves to know that they are receiving assistance from dedicated professionals who have no other interest than ensuring they get the unbiased help they deserve when seeking employment.”