Bill expands governor's ability to hire, fire state workers

The ranks of "at will" employees would grow under a bill moving through the state House. State employees said rank-and-file positions would also be subject to political whims under the measure.

Posted Updated

Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — More state workers would serve at the pleasure of the governor under a bill that cleared the House State Personnel Committee Wednesday. 

The measure, which has drawn opposition from the State Employees Association of North Carolina, rewrites much of the State Personnel Act, a 60-year-old law that governs when and how most state employees are hired and fired. 

Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday that he was seeking more flexibility in dealing with state workers. 

"Really, we're investing in employees and strengthening the employer-employee relationship so that everyone can be successful," State Personnel Director Neal Alexander told the committee via phone.

House Bill 834 had been filed as a measure dealing with the regulation of locksmiths, but that language was stripped out and replaced with the State Personnel Act language. 

It would raise from 1,000 to 1,500 the number of state workers a governor could hire or fire at will. These so-called "exempt" employees are generally political appointees who serve at top levels of the state's bureaucracy. 

Dana Cope, SEANC executive director, said his group didn't have an problem with that provision, calling it  "a red herring."

Other provisions of the bill, he said, made the remainder of the state's rank-and-file positions more vulnerable to political decision-making.

While provisions that prohibit political considerations in hiring for the approximately 135,000 positions subject to the State Personnel Act remain, the bill deletes many of the remedies a worker could pursue if they believed someone was promoted ahead of them for political reasons.

"Public employees deserve a system that rewards or punishes employees based on what they know, not who they know," Cope said.

Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, said he had worked with SEANC on the bill language and was surprised to hear Cope's objections.

"I've negotiated in good faith almost as long as I'm willing to negotiate," Collins told committee members. 

The bill had bipartisan support, with Rep. Winkie Wilkins, D-Person, backing the measure and promising to continue working on problems in the bill.

One section of the bill all sides agreed was a problem had to do with the rights workers have when a position that they're in is eliminated.

Current law requires they be offered a job with equivalent pay before being laid off. The bill seeks to allow workers to be offered jobs at a lower pay grade. However, Collins and SEANC said it would be unreasonable for a high-level executive or doctor to give up rights to certain severance benefits if offered a janitorial position. 

That provision is likely to be changed before the measure is heard by the House Appropriations Committee.

Related Topics

Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.