City Avoids Civil Service Process with Exempt Hires

SFDPW and SFMTA two of the worst offenders

In 1994, only 2% of the entire city workforce were exempt employees. That percentage has grown significantly over the years.  As of today, 27% of Local 21 workers in the city are exempt employees- more than 1 in 4.  

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and San Francisco Department of Public Works (SFDPW) are two of the city departments with the most egregious hiring records, with 35% of its workforce made up of exempt positions. Even with such a high percentage of exempt workers, SFDPW continues to post new job openings as exempt instead of as permanent. In contrast, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has been one of the best city departments on hiring and maintaining a permanent civil service work force, with 14% of Local 21 employees in exempt positions, well below average.

The issue of exempt positions has been a huge concern for Local 21, and we have been an active voice in pressing departments to hire more permanent civil service positions. 

A permanent work force benefits our members, the department, and the public. The Civil Service process ensures that city workers are hired based on merit. This process guards against nepotism, favoritism, and discrimination, something that we can all be proud of. In addition, permanent positions have protections. With permanent positions the City must prove that there is something wrong with a worker’s performance before removing them from their job, which also guards against discrimination and favoritism in the workplace.  

When you are an exempt employee, the City doesn’t have to prove that there is anything wrong with your performance at work, because you are considered exempt from Civil Service rules.  Many exempt employees are hired in Exempt Category 18, which allows departments to bypass the Civil Service hiring procedures and make appointments “which shall not exceed 3 years and shall not be renewable,” for the purpose of working on “special projects and professional services with limited term funding.” However, the City has been hiring more and more workers in the Category 18 exemption who are not doing temporary work, but rather the work of permanent employees.

That means a lot of routine work is being carried out by workers without the job protections they would normally be entitled to under Civil Service rules, and undermines union power by reducing union protections for workers. It also means that the City bypasses the competitive hiring process that is the cornerstone of the Civil Service for these positions.

Local 21 calls on the City, and SFDPW and SFMTA specifically, to rethink their overreliance exempt workers. Permanent Civil Service positions are a benefit for everyone: they mean positions that promote institutional knowledge on city projects, a diverse workforce, and jobs with full union protections.

To learn more about exempt positions, click here.