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The Purple Wave Finds Conflict with New Orleans City Plans

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North America’s fastest growing union wants to preserve “bumping rights”

NEW ORLEANS. La. – Mayor Mitch Landrieu has requested the limited removal of seniority privileges from consideration in city lay-offs, and the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union is unimpressed.

The “bumping right” in jeopardy is the power employees with seniority have to displace workers in other departments when they lose their own position. This proposal comes in the wake of a March Public Strategies Group report commissioned by the Mayor’s Office – a 29-page “Transformation Plan for City Government.”

Yesterday, in the lead up to Thursday’s Council Chambers hearing on the proposal, SEIU leaders and union members held a press conference and called for “facts, not urban legend” to drive the city’s reform.

The Local 21 LA chapter of the union represents most of the city government’s employees, and Chapter President Helene O’Brien (pictured above) wanted people to know that performance ratings are already the priority in lay-off decisions.

“Seniority is second,” she said. “And yet the kind of change that is being promoted, the argument behind it, is somehow leaving that important fact out.” (Listen to the complete interview below – six minutes.)

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O’Brien believes the proposed change, to restrict seniority privileges to one department, would not keep the best employees in the New Orleans. However, she resisted an explanation as to why seniority, in and of itself, ought to be a consideration beyond a default position.

“It’s a default, that’s exactly what it is… And also because we all know that we get much better at our job the more we do it.”

The SEIU press release also describes the commissioned report as flawed, due to the small sample size of 60 individuals.

Even with that limitation, though, SEIU sees no connection between the report’s findings and the proposed change. They allege the report does reveal a top heavy bureaucracy and a history of poor management in city government, with lower level employees as victims of the dysfunction.

The public hearing will take place at 10am on Thursday (tomorrow) at the New Orleans Council Chambers.

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and editor of The Pelican Post. He can be contacted at fhodgson@pelicaninstitute.org, and one can follow him on twitter.

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