Reposted from a story by Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
“Rampant abuse and neglect goes on,” said Michael Carey, an advocate for disabled people.
“What a stain on the State of New York. Shame on Albany and shame on the union that protects workers who commit crimes. I am pro-union, but this one needs to get a grip.”
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Another sent threatening text messages to a female co-worker, according to state records, including one that said: “I’m gonna gut you like a fish blondie. Don’t even try to call the police.”
A third, a nurse, left a patient naked and bleeding from a head injury on a bathroom floor, soaking in his own feces.
And a fourth knocked a group home resident out of a chair, hit the resident on the back of the head and squirted water from a bottle in the resident’s face.
All of these state employees care for people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses. They were all found culpable of wrongdoing in internal disciplinary proceedings. But none were fired.
Two and a half years ago, The New York Times published an article about abusive employees who worked for the state, detailing how few employees were fired, even after the state recommended that they lose their jobs, because of weaknesses in the arbitration process, the permissive attitude of state officials and the aggressive stance of public sector labor unions — particularly the Civil Service Employees Association.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo promised to change all this. But much has not changed.
A review by The Times found that the state had made no discernible progress in firing abusive and derelict workers. Not counting workers ultimately cleared of all disciplinary charges, the state still manages to fire only about a quarter of those recommended for job termination, a rate that has not budged.
One reason for the low dismissal rate is the wide latitude given to arbitrators who decide many cases, and who have a history of siding with the union. In 2011, the Cuomo administration announced a framework agreement with the union to create a table of mandatory punishments for various offenses, which would take many decisions out of arbitrators’ hands. But two years later, the sides have yet to reach a final agreement.
Mr. Cuomo has put much stock in a new state bureaucracy he championed, called the Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs, which will oversee and, it is hoped, improve enforcement of crimes against vulnerable populations. But his appointee to lead it, Jeffrey Wise, has alarmed some advocates for disabled people: Mr. Wise is a longtime spokesman and lobbyist for private disabled-care providers, who are often as troubled as the state.
Mr. Wise even lobbied against Jonathan’s Law, the legislation that forced the state to start disclosing abuse reports to parents, named after a teenager with autism who died after being asphyxiated by a state worker.
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Long Island Democrat who co-sponsored Jonathan’s Law, called Mr. Wise’s appointment “sort of frightening.”
“It upsets me that somebody that did lobby against Jonathan’s Law would be put in this position,” said Mr. Weisenberg, whose severely disabled son has also been a victim of abuse. “I hope that in reality he will learn and understand the needs of those that are impacted, rather than the needs of the agencies and the people in control.”
Mr. Wise said in an interview that he would be independent.
“I have absolutely no compunction or reservations about pursuing actions against state agencies or voluntary providers,” he said. “Abuse is abuse, no matter who’s doing it.”
The 2011 article, based on employee disciplinary records obtained through the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that the state fired only about 23 percent of the workers that had been recommended for job termination by their supervisors. Cases in which the worker was ultimately cleared of all charges were not included in the analysis. The article focused on workers employed by the State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.
The Times conducted a new review this year by looking at 227 cases decided since the beginning of 2012 in which the state had sought to fire an offending employee. The numbers remain the same. Only 23 percent of the workers recommended for dismissal by the state actually ended up being fired.
The latest review also included a second agency, the State Office of Mental Health, whose workers care for the mentally ill. The numbers were hardly different there. About 27 percent of 104 workers recommended for dismissal actually were fired, according to a review of cases at that agency. In all, The Times reviewed about 4,000 pages of records.
A recommendation to fire an employee occurs following an internal disciplinary inquiry into allegations made against the worker. The employee is represented by the union and has the right to contest the firing before an arbitrator, who can uphold the charges, reject some or all of them, or impose a lesser punishment. In some cases, the state and union will settle on a punishment before the arbitrator rules.
Administration officials point the finger at the union. They said that the governor’s office had taken far more cases to arbitration than previous administrations, rather than reaching settlements for lesser penalties, but that they were hamstrung by an arbitration process that was part of the collective bargaining agreement.