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TACOMA: Base layoffs on merit, not seniority

Letter by Ken Peachey, Tacoma on Dec. 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm with 24 Comments »
December 15, 2011 12:28 pm

After six years of city hall activism for improved bike and pedestrian facilities in Tacoma, what gripes me most about the looming layoffs? The process – about which I admittedly know very little – whereby employees with perhaps a year or even 10 years seniority are able to push out highly qualified, meritorious and very specialized junior personnel.

In my humble opinion and with all due respect, this is not the sort of system that will enable our municipality take a step up. Tacoma can’t hope to compete on a national or even a regional basis for businesses looking to relocate if we allow our city to manage its employees in such a fashion.

Several years ago, a former Tacoma employee opined to me that all local government has a way of grinding good people into dust. At the time, it was the speed of government, or rather its lack, that did the grinding. Indeed, local government is a slow process.

Now, however, it’s about to be an antiquated good ol’ boy/girl network that will grind up and spit out many talented folks our community sorely needs. Tacoma desperately needs a merit-based employee evaluation system that, when reductions-in-force occur, retains the most qualified for a given responsibility, not the most senior.

Leave a comment Comments → 24
  1. Chippert says:

    Ken, your first sentence has me truly confused. What do improved bike and pedestrian facilities have to do with the layoffs?

  2. Fibonacci says:

    “retain the most qualified for a given responsibility, not the most senior”–are you sure you don’t mean the cheapest? That is what will happen if seniority does not matter (by the way, I don’t work for any public entity). Exactly HOW would your merit-based evaluation system work? The problem is, no one has found a fair way to do this yet.

  3. Dave98373 says:

    There will NEVER be a fair way to base ANYTHING on merit. Evaluations and merit policies will always be subjective and biased as long as a supervisor (aka–MANAGEMENT) is conducting it.

  4. watchfromsidelines says:

    “The tone at the top” is the phrase used in professional literature to refer to the most important element for promoting honesty in an organization as well as the integrity of its internal financial controls. For the City of Tacoma, the council should be at the top of the hierarchy and should, with the City Manager, set the proper tone for behavior generally and for governance in particular.

    The link between the tone at the top of an organization and dishonest, unethical behavior has become an important aspect of job-based responsibilities for all organizations. Is the right tone at the City being set at the top, after readig about the recent problems the City now has I do not believe it has been. Hopefully it will change, more people need to stand up against the City’s power players but unfortunately from others I have known that have worked there the good employees who do stand up either burn out and leave voluntarily or are forced out involuntarily if they do try to stand up for what is right.

  5. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    There will NEVER be a fair way to base ANYTHING on merit. Evaluations and merit policies will always be subjective and biased as long as a supervisor (aka–MANAGEMENT) is conducting it.

    Spoken like a career public servant.

    The non-union private sector says hello.

  6. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    And with all due respect to the letter-writer, perhaps if the city had not spent so much on “improved bike and pedestrian facilities in Tacoma“, some of these “talented folks“ would have a little less to worry about, with respect to these “looming layoffs“.

    Just sayin’.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I am not in favor of cut-backs in city personnel – I absolutely am in favor of reducing the non-essential work force. I also agree, it should be based on merit, not tenure. And if Dave98373 is so worried about being subjected to the type of performance reviews that a vast majority of private-sector employees routinely go through in order to keep their job, or improve their position, then perhaps he might suggest a better alternative, because the status-quo is simply no longer acceptable.

  7. Here’s a radical, socialist idea that has found much favor in France and Germany.

    Cut everyones hours and pay by the same percenage that will produce the same cost savings as the layoffs would.

  8. Layoff using senority. Then, when lean, monitor performance of those left in the wake of layoffs and if they don’t live up to “performance” standards, get rid of the dead weight, then the city can hire someone that can/will perform.

  9. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    x, I would also have no problem with you suggestion. But I have a feeling the “safe“ employees – those with seniority – would have a big problem with sharing their wealth.

  10. Copper2Steel says:

    Makes total sense, Ken — and I agree with you. However, the reason layoffs are done by senioroity is because that’s what union contracts dictate. Many, though not all, non-union government employees must also follow union contracts, for some reason, so then their layoffs are dictacted that way as well.

  11. sandblower says:

    Mr. Peachey,
    With due respect, your idea is not very peachy. There are valid reasons for layoffs being prescribed by seniority. If you and others here don’t know those reasons, it is not my fault. But it does indicate an ignorance of the sociological background that adequately answers the question.

  12. SandHills says:

    Seems like a pointed opposition to labor unions – which has as a major position that seniority will be protected at the cost to merit.

  13. sandblower says:

    There are better ways to deal with merit issues on a year round basis, not just when the workforce needs to be trimmed.

  14. Vox – you are right – how unthought-of me to expect people at the top to have compassion for anyone but themselves.

    Copper, which would you rather have, layoffs by seniority, or layoffs determined by a manager?

  15. Fibonacci says:

    I am not a public employee but your comment about “the private non-union sextor says hell” makes no sense. In my work,it is not seniority that determines who is let go, but the system used is not always fair eiter.It is at the whim of the one at the top. Just because that is how it works in the private does not make it right. The “merit” determined by the management is not always based on who does the best job, just as seniority does not determine who does the best job.

  16. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    Fib, the world is not fair. Why is it folks to the left of center never seem to get this most fundamental fact?

    Now convince me that a model where only those with less seniority are let go during lean times is superior to one where evaluations drive the selections of those who are laid-off.

    Look, I have no doubt that ugly things like vendettas, ego, and ax grinding can sometimes play a part in decision-making… at really poorly run companies. But, speaking from experience, that would be the exception – not the rule.

    And I also have no doubt that sour grapes can muddy the perspective of anyone who has ever been fired or laid-off.

  17. took14theteam says:

    Sandblower @1:42, you are correct. Deal with ineffective employees when needed. Don’t let the situation go on without addressing it, then toss them out when cuts need to be made. If the problem(s) were addressed early, that person may have turned into one of your best employees.

  18. took14theteam says:

    Okay Vox, you are banned from using italics. That is 2 threads in the last day. For shame…

  19. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    My own personal way of hijacking a thread, t14tt.

    And speaking of banned, I’ve noticed quite a few innocuous posts of mine have been disappearing lately. Pretty mucky stuff, if you ask me.

  20. took14theteam says:

    Yes, I have noticed things disappearing as of late too. But certain comments from certain peeps still remain (reminds you of where the State Capital is).

    If that is your way of hijacking a thread, more power to you. We all know it is much better than the _nos hijacking…..


  21. Vox, Had your missing comments actually got posted? Sometimes, comments get caught in limbo until the webmaster posts them manually. Either way, contact the Webmaster. All posts are valuable and desever a fair reading.

    PS: responses may vary.

  22. took14theteam says:

    That was a bridge the gap comment from xring. Nice job xring!

    This is a sincere :-) for you.

  23. de nada

  24. Vox,
    The world is not fair, but does that justify people and organizations deliberately making un-fair decisions?

    Progressives do understand the world is un-fair which is why we want to reduce the amount of un-fairness in the world.

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