As New York agencies struggle to fill thousands of jobs, some city workers say they’ve been instructed to underestimate new hires
A growing staffing crisis facing New York City, the nation’s largest municipal employer, is raising questions about City Hall’s approach to hiring and whether the city actually enough to compete for workers at a time when many critical agencies are stretched.
Most city employees blamed the city’s unusually high attrition and difficulty hiring on the lack of a remote or hybrid work option.
However, some current and former city agency officials and hiring managers say the challenge of hiring the best candidates also stems from a relatively recent practice of underestimating new hires. According to a source in city government, the policy stems from a union rule that was rarely enforced until the pandemic triggered city hall belt-tightening measures.
Six people familiar with the hiring process spanning five different agencies, including the Department of Transport and the Department of Sanitation, told Gothamist they were asked to offer applicants with no previous experience working within the New York City government the minimum wage range posted on the job posting.
The people who spoke to Gothamist did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from city hall and worries about their job prospects.
All recall that the policy was communicated verbally, although one city employee shared several emails from August 2021 from his human resources department which stated that employees in their first two years of city service should be paid at a “new hire rate”.
The practice, they said, prevents their agencies from hiring the most qualified candidates at a time when the private sector has stepped up hiring following a pandemic-induced lull, often with higher salary offers. high and, in many cases, flexibility around remote work.
“They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” said a city worker.
For example, a job posting for a “Transportation Specialist” in the Transportation Planning and Management Division lists a salary range for the position between $67,757 and $80,000, meaning that ‘a person who has not worked for the city before could only earn the lower amount, according to the hiring policy. Candidates hired for such a position usually have a master’s degree, according to one of the people who spoke about the city’s hiring process.
Across the country, state and city governments have lagged private companies in hiring, fueled by a mix of retirements, shifting workplace preferences driven by the pandemic and a stronger labor market. This trend bodes ill for the recruitment of the next generation of civil servants.
The city’s labor shortage and hiring issues have caught the attention of the city council, which has scheduled a hearing Friday into the issues. As reported by THE CITY, council member Gale Brewer, who leads the Oversight and Investigations Committee, has produced a preliminary study outlining numerous vacancies.
In an interview with Gothamist, Brewer said she’s also heard complaints from city employees that they’ve been asked to pay new hires at the bottom of the ladder.
“There are so many reasons why these positions are not being filled,” she added. “It might be one of them, but there are tons of reasons in my book.”
At a city council hearing on the issue on Friday, Daniel Pollak, commissioner with the Department of Labor Relations, attributed the minimum wage requirement for new hires to the collective bargaining agreement.
Asked by Brewer if the administration wants to change those rules in upcoming contract negotiations, Pollak declined to comment on those talks, but said the city is addressing recruiting and retention issues.
City hall officials argued that public employers across the country were struggling to hire.
“But we want the best,” Brewer replied.
In a statement, Jonah Allon, spokesman for the mayor, said city labor agreements covering civilian titles “generally have a new hire rate that must be paid to employees with less than two years of service in the town”.
A source close to the town hall explained that the agencies nevertheless had more leeway on the hiring process and salaries before the pandemic.
Thea Setterbo, spokesperson for the city’s largest municipal union, DC37, said the rule – which is also known as the “removed minimum” wage for new hires – was something the union agreed to in 2017 as part of the negotiations for increases.
But Setterbo added that the rule does not prohibit the city from offering higher salaries for “hard to recruit” positions.
Ana Champeny, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, says the city needs to reform its hiring process, which has long been seen as cumbersome and opaque due to bureaucracy and civil service rules.
Champeny said she hadn’t seen any documentation of minimum wage rules for new hires, but described them as ill-advised given the current circumstances.
“In a tight labor market, that would be a barrier to hiring,” she said.
Adams has resisted calls to allow hybrid work for city workers. He presented the shrinking municipal workforce as the intended effect of a more fiscally responsible approach to city management.
During testimony before the New York State Board of Financial Control this week, Adams said the number of municipal employees was just under 304,000. That’s the smallest workforce city since 2010, when there were about 302,000 city workers, according to the Citizens Budget Commission.
Under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the number of city employees grew to nearly 327,000 in 2019. About 6,000 of those positions were created as a result of the Universal Pre-K expansion.
For fiscal year 2023, the city is budgeted for a workforce of approximately 333,000, meaning there are well over 20,000 vacancies to be filled.
Champeny said the city doesn’t need to fill all those vacancies, but attrition is a “brutal tool” to try to save money.
“Are you getting staff reductions where you need them? she said, adding “Attrition is getting to a point where it is negatively impacting services in some areas. »
In July, Gothamist reported that half of the city’s sexual health clinics had suspended services at the start of the pandemic and could not resume them due to staffing issues. Capacity remains limited.
Earlier this year, a study by the Independent Budget Office drew attention to the understaffing of the Civil Complaints Review Board, the police oversight agency charged with investigating the conduct of the forces. of the order.
Staffing shortages at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development have slowed construction and enforcement of affordable housing, according to reports from THE CITY and the New York Post.