- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

BEAVER DAM, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker, who said four years ago that the civil service system offered state workers “the most important” job protections, on Friday defended his support of a proposal that would change it to make it easier to hire and fire employees.

Walker told reporters that the changes he’s backing in the Legislature would remove the current system, not open it to cronyism and partisan political appointments as its Democratic and union critics contend.

“If anything we’re enhancing the benefits of the old civil service system,” Walker said after touring Apache Stainless Corporation.

Rewriting Wisconsin’s 100-year-old civil service system covering about 30,000 state workers is Walker’s first major policy initiative since he abruptly dropped out of the Republican presidential race on Monday. Walker endorsed the GOP plan on Thursday when he spoke with Republican members of the state Assembly.

The proposed changes would do away with a required civil service exam, eliminate “bumping” rights that protect more experienced workers from losing their jobs, speed up the hiring process and define specific acts that amount to just cause for being fired.

Democratic and union opponents said the measure is another attack on workers that comes four years after Walker signed Act 10, which effectively eliminated collective bargaining for nearly all state employees.

Walker said back then he wasn’t interested in making changes to the civil service system. In 2011, he called it “the protection that workers have that’s the most important in the state of Wisconsin. … It was there long before collective bargaining, it’ll be there long after.”

Walker said Friday he was not going back on his word, but rather doing away with “silliness and ridiculousness” in the current law, while keeping the parts that work well.

“It will be all merit-based,” he said of the changes. “It’s very transparent.”

The bill by Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, of Kaukauna, and Sen. Roger Roth, of Appleton, was to be formally introduced on Monday but they outlined details of the measure Thursday. Republican legislative leaders say they hope to hold a hearing on the bill in coming weeks and vote on it next month.

The proposal would:

- Do away with the civil service exam currently required for job applicants and replace it with a resume-based system. Supporters of the test say it ensures applicants are hired based on their expertise, rather than arbitrary or political considerations.

- Speed up the hiring process, requiring that it be done within 60 days. The appeals process for a fired employee would be shortened from two years to no more than seven months.

- Eliminate “bumping” rules that allow employees with more seniority whose positions are eliminated to take a different job held by someone with less experience.

- Make employees subject to annual performance reviews and extend the probationary period for new hires.

- Reinstitute a system for paying merit pay and centralize hiring decisions with the state Department of Administration, taking away sole discretion from the state agencies filling vacancies.

- Define when a worker can be fired for just cause, a move its backers said will give them more certainty about what is allowed and what isn’t. The current system allows for employees to be fired for just cause, but does not define what that means.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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