City Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. Built in the 1960's and located in Government Center. It is generally disliked by Bostonians. The type of architecture is "brutalist".

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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu last month followed through on her 2019 campaign pledge and signed into law an ordinance transferring the Boston Planning and Development Agency over to city control.

But the agency’s very strong civil service-like protections for many of its employees will not go with them. Instead, they are being pared back significantly.

The loss of the job protections has received no public attention, but it has stirred anxiety among some of the affected employees, all of whom declined to comment for fear of alienating their new city bosses.

The city ordinance paving the way for the transfer is silent on the fate of the job protections and a separate home rule petition still to be approved by the Legislature does not address the issue either.

When Wu and Arthur Jemison, the chief of planning in her cabinet who also doubles as the director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, testified in January at a legislative hearing in support of the home rule petition, they never mentioned the job protections nor were they asked about it by any of the legislators on the committee.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency is actually an umbrella organization that includes two separate entities — the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the much-lesser known Economic Development Industrial Corporation. The BRA currently has 56 employees and the EDIC 159.

It is the BRA employees who currently have the major job protections that are embedded in Massachusetts law, which states the following:

“No person permanently employed by a redevelopment authority . . . shall, after having actually performed the duties of his office or position for a period of six months, be discharged, removed, suspended, laid off, transferred from the latest office or employment held by him without his consent, lowered in rank or compensation, nor shall his office or position be abolished, except for just cause.”

This provision last year caused problems for Wu when she wanted to remove from office then Boston Planning and Development Agency director Brian Golden and two other high-level officials, all of them holdovers from the administration of former Mayor Marty Walsh.

The mayor could not simply terminate them because there was no just cause. So instead, Wu bought them out. Golden walked away with a $200,000 settlement. But the reality is that he and his colleagues did not have to leave if they did not want to because the Boston Planning and Development Agency was not being absorbed by the city at that time and their job protections prevented them from being dismissed without just cause, which did not exist in the case of the employees.

Just cause typically involves matters such as insubordination, incompetency, and moral turpitude. But, according to Boston Planning and Development Agency officials, the Massachusetts law links to another statute that indicates just cause would include abolishment of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, meaning the civil service-like protections will no longer be available to the BRA employees when they transfer over to the city.

Boston Planning and Development Agency employees transitioning over to the city will be provided with an “offer letter” with “terms and conditions of employment, and they will sign to acknowledge their employment,” according to a spokesperson for the agency. It is not considered to be a contract.

According to a copy of the letter, the transitioning BRA employees will be entitled to the process of arbitration in the event that they are terminated while working for the city.

Boston Planning and Development Agency officials claim that this arbitration process is “equivalent” to the job protections that BRA employees currently have. But an attorney with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified, said that’s not the case.

“The arbitration protections that the BRA employees will get when they go to work for the city will clearly be much weaker than the protections they enjoy now because nothing is codified into Massachusetts law,” he said.

The offer letter also imposes many restrictions on the transferring BRA workers.  For example, the results of any termination arbitration are “final and binding” unless the arbitrator exceeds her authority, and the employee will be responsible for paying half the cost of the arbitration plus attorney’s fees and expert witness fees, which would likely run into the thousands of dollars.

Other limitations include a provision specifying that the sole factual issue to be decided at arbitration is whether the employee engaged in the conduct resulting in the discharge. So if the city, say, reduces the salary of the employee or demotes the employee, it is not subject to arbitration.

Also, the arbitrator will have no authority to modify the disciplinary penalty, and the arbitration will be limited to matters of termination and not any lesser discipline.

There is also the issue of what will happen to BRA employees who refuse to go over to the city. The reality is they can take it or leave it. They can choose to accept or not to accept the position they are offered by the city but their current position at the BPDA won’t exist any more,” said an agency spokesperson.

This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Abolishing BPDA to Cost Many Employees Their Strong Job Protections

by CommonWealth Beacon time to read: 3 min