Last Updated:December 19 @ 05:25 pm

Thousands of Ariz. state workers drop protections

By Paul Davenport

PHOENIX (AP) - Thousands of Arizona state government workers are opting to give up civil-service job protections in exchange for short-term pay increases and the possibility of other gains down the road.

Nearly 5,300 workers, or nearly 38 percent of those eligible, voluntarily changed their status to "uncovered" under the state personnel system, state Human Resources Director Kathy Peckardt said Monday.

A signup period ended Friday.

An additional 6,616 workers — supervisors, attorneys and computer workers — will automatically go to uncovered status under Gov. Jan Brewer's makeover of the state government personnel system.

Going uncovered means workers give up some grounds for appeals as part of a package that also reduces oversight of terminations.

Those dropping the civil service protections get a 5 percent pay bonus over the next 19 pay periods. They also are now positioned to get permanent pay boosts depending on performance, said Mathew Benson, Brewer's chief spokesman.

Brewer and administration officials said the changes approved by the Republican-led Legislature last spring at her urging will make state government's personnel system more responsible and productive.

Union officials and Democratic lawmakers failed to block Brewer's proposal, unsuccessfully arguing that the changes were unnecessary and open the door to cronyism and political favoritism.

The personnel package was one of the Brewer's priorities for the last legislative session.

Roughly three-quarters of the 34,450 workers in the personnel system for most executive-branch agencies are now covered by civil service protections. Under the legislation's changes, roughly that same proportion will no longer be protected by so-called "merit system" protections in four years, Brewer's office said last spring.

Peckardt said the percentage of uncovered workers will reach 70 percent on Sept. 29 when the changes take effect.

Benson said the 38 percent signup rate was "a tremendous response" that exceeded the administration's projection of 25 percent. "So this is a welcome surprise," he said.

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