As members of the Civil Service Employee Association, the state's largest public labor union, rallied Thursday morning in Albany about an increasing shortage of public service workers, Gov. Kathy Hochul joined them to sign two pieces of legislation to help fill thousands of open positions.
The new laws will require the state Department of Civil Service to notify public school districts, colleges and universities, local Board of Cooperative Educational Services and certain job training programs of upcoming civil service exams. The organizations will soon be able to sign up for electronic announcements of exam dates and other information.
"We're going to do things differently now," Hochul said to union members seated in a conference room at The Desmond Hotel in Albany. "We have technology. We can bring the test to people. We don't have to be so rigid about it."
Legislation was also signed to mandate any time a person works as a provisional employee to count toward a probationary period required for employees before their title becomes permanent.
The governor joined AFSCME President Lee Saunders and other national, state and local CSEA leaders on the union's multi-state "Staff the Front Lines" bus tour to raise awareness about the staffing crisis. New York civil service exams will be offered more frequently and at additional testing centers, Hochul said.
CSEA President Mary Sullivan praised the governor for lifting the hiring freeze former Gov. Andrew Cuomo instated in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic in efforts to prepare for an expected multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall at the time.
"For the first time in a long time, we have a governor who recognizes this dire need and who is ready to rebuild the public workforce," Sullivan said. "...The Staff the Front Lines initiative started by AFSCME and its affiliates highlights the need to recruit public sector workers not just here in New York, but nationwide. As we have all seen, the public sector workforce has been downsized and decimated for quite some time now and that has to change."
Hochul lifted the freeze in September 2021 — a month after taking office.
"When you have a hiring freeze, that's not exactly a 'Welcome, come apply for a job sign,' right?" the governor said. "...So we had to lift the hiring freeze because people were being denied essential services, and the workforce that was here was being crushed under the weight of the responsibility. It was too much, it was unsustainable."
There are currently 14,000 open jobs in New York state government.
"We put out an alarm, and people are listening," AFSCME President Saunders said. "...We’re going all over the country and we’re talking about the fact that public services can’t suffer any longer. The way that you continue to provide essential services is to hire. We’ve got to make that system easier. We’ve got to educate folks about the importance of public service, and the fact that public service is open for business. There are jobs available – good jobs with good wages, good benefits and good pensions.”