Friday, January 19, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 19, 2001

Counties could test civil service reform

State lawmakers leery of moving too fast on civil service reform this session might want to let the counties lead the way.

During the annual pilgrimage of mayors to the state Legislature this week, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris laid out the argument for reforms that would create greater management flexibility within the environment of a unionized public workforce.

Pro-labor legislators will be wary of such ideas, and they are right to be so. It is possible to use the vehicle of civil service reform to go after sound labor rights and work rules that have been years in the making.

But sensible civil service reform does not have to come at the expense of the workforce. It is simply a response to changing conditions, new technology and new demands on government that were not in place when Hawaii’s civil service system was built.

Civil service reform can mean far greater flexibility, opportunity and job satisfaction for those who work for the state and counties. Think, perhaps, of the work conditions and job satisfaction in a New Economy high-tech company compared with that in a rigid, hierarchical Old Economy company.

Harris was promoting changes in the law that would allow greater privatization of public services when it makes economic sense to do so. He also asked for changes that would give greater flexibility to management in such areas as job assignment.

Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana made the argument that some of the changes sought by Harris could be worked out at the bargaining table with the unions. That’s undoubtedly true in many cases, and the unions and management should be working hard on that front right now.

But other changes cannot happen unless procedures imbedded in law are changed. If lawmakers are reluctant to do this on a statewide basis right off the bat, they should consider allowing the counties to experiment in this direction on a smaller scale.

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