State lawmakers gave the first approval late Thursday to strip some state workers of their protections against being fired for bad reasons -- or no reason at all -- and convince the rest of them to give up their rights, too.
The 275-page measure, approved by the House Committee on Employment and Regulatory Affairs on a party-line vote, would have an immediate impact only on some current employees who already are "covered'' under merit system rules. These include supervisors and those at upper levels of pay.
Sworn police officers also would be exempt.
But anyone hired by the state beginning Sept. 29, at any level, would be an "at-will'' employee, with no rights to file grievances over discipline or termination.
The remainder -- about 75 percent of the approximately 36,000 -- could choose to retain their protections. But the plan crafted by Gov. Jan Brewer is designed to make that a bad deal.
Most immediately, her budget proposes a 5 percent pay hike for state workers. But "covered'' employees would get that raise only if they agree to forfeit their rights.
Scott Smith, a deputy chief of staff for Brewer, conceded that HB 2571, as it currently exists, has no funding for that. And he said it is possible lawmakers may not approve a pay hike at all.
Smith said, though, the plan has other incentives designed to encourage workers to give up personnel protections. He said that includes the ability to be financially rewarded by a supervisor for a job well done; current personnel rules and pay scales make it difficult to have different salaries for two workers with the same job description.
Rep. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, said her concern with the measure, which now goes to the full House, is on the other side of the equation. She said the changes would give supervisors free rein to promote those who curry favor -- and fire those who they simply dislike.
Smith told lawmakers that won't occur. He said the system has "guiding principles'' which protect employees against coercion and partisan politics.
Pancrazi, however, was not convinced that those principles will be enough to actually protect state workers. She pressed Smith on exactly how that would be policed.
He responded that she was being overly concerned.