Discussion of the Current Public Employee Relationship

Introduction

It is not a secret that public employment relationship is affected by a number of historical events that take place in the life of American society. Among these important historical events are the black liberation movement, women’s liberation movement, and other social and political events that are related to the issues of gender and racial equality. The historical analysis of the period of the late 1960s and later periods shows that the rights of federal civil servants or public employees have become differentiated from the rights of ordinary American citizens. There is a need for considering the emergence of a number of changes in the constitutional rights of federal employees from the period of the American nation’s foundation to the present days. The research question that will be discussed in this paper is “What is the current public employee relationship?” In his book Federal Service and the Constitution, David H. Rosenbloom (2014) suggests that the public employment relationship concerns the constitutional rights, duties and responsibilities of public employees and their governmental employers, as well as analyses the prevailing concept of what a public employee is now and should be in the future. The author assumes that these constitutional doctrines reflect the political definition of public employment and public administration adjusting to changing legal doctrines (Rosenbloom, 2014). The current public employment relationship is based on the principle of equal opportunity supported by the constitutional law. The Public Service Model reflects constitutional democracy established in the United States due to the unique political approach applied to the field of public administration. The key values that should be possessed by public employees include representativeness, political responsiveness, responsibility, and accountability demonstrated through various bureaucratic practices (Rosenbloom, 2014). The review of the academic literature on public governance and public employment relationship places emphasis on the importance of transparency and civil participation in decision and policy making. The Public Service Model fulfils the demands of the US Constitution and the ordinary citizens, although some changes should be made to ensure that the constitutional rights of public employees are not violated. The major goal of this paper is to explore public employee relationship, taking into consideration the analysis of the historical periods in the development of public employment and the Public Service Model that defines the current public employment relationship. Thesis statement:  The current status of the constitutional rights of public employees should be reviewed to foster the shift to a new model that will be supported by the recent US Supreme Court decisions, involving private sector practices.

Overview of the Current Public Employee Relationship

Historical Periods

The nature and meaning of public employment relationship can be better understood through the accurate analysis of the key historical periods in the development of American society. Special attention should be paid to the changes in the rights, duties and responsibilities of public employees. According to Rosenbloom (2014), “historically the relationship between public employees and their governmental employers in the United States has posed nettle-some political, administrative, and constitutional issues” (p. 1). There were several important historical periods that reflected the fundamental changes in the constitutional rights of public employees. There was a debate regarding equality in constitutional rights of public employees and ordinary American citizens. The debate related to the discussion of the impact of government employment on the position of public employees in American society (Rosenbloom, 2014).

To start with, the study of the early development of public employment relationship shows that the rights of public employees differed from the rights of ordinary Americans. Research studies show that the number of federal employees was limited in 1789-1829 (Rosenbloom, 2014). According to Rosenbloom (2014), “the extension of the dominance of the elites who controlled the national government by holding office as presidents, Supreme Court justices, Senators and  the members of the House of Representatives” (p. 3). During that historical period, special attention was paid to social class status, kinship relations and ethical issues in selection of the candidates in the field of public administration (Rosenbloom, 2014). This fact means that ordinary American citizens had no chance to become public servants or federal employees. The doctrine of privilege was used to shape public employment relationship in the early period of the nation’s development.

Actually, public employment relationship was considerably influenced by the emergence of spoils systems. In the period from 1829 till the Civil war years, public employees’ status in American society was changed. According to researchers, federal employment was defined as an important political resource that made federal employees the so-called “adjuncts of the political party in power” (Rosenbloom, 2014, p. 3). Democratic ideas affected public employment decisions to a great extent. The introduction of the spoils system led to the significant role of political affiliation in public employment. In other words, public employees were the key players in ensuring the president’s political party position. President Jackson’s goal was to pursue his political objectives by means of public employees. This fact means that the representatives of non-elite were included in the work of the national political party. Rosenbloom (2014) suggests that “the spoils system destroyed the ideas that he federal service should be staffed by elites and that federal offices were form of property” (p. 4).

Besides, the rise of the merit system affected the nature of  public employment relationship. The fledgling merit system was introduced in 1883. In this period, government tasks were extremely complicated. Public employees needed specific training and qualifications to perform their duties and responsibilities in a proper way. Researchers found that  the status of public employee was changed under the impact of both the Civil Service Reform movement and the Progressive movement (Rosenbloom, 2014). Federal employees were politically neutral. They were obliged to made ethical decisions. It is clear that they had specific qualifications to perform the assigned duties (Rosenbloom, 2014).

Moreover, there was a period when certain restrictions were imposed on the partisan political activities of public employees. These restrictions were defined in the rules that limited some forms of political activity. Rosenbloom (2014) suggests that “political neutrality restrictions on partisan political activity” was the key feature of the public employment relationship. There were limitations imposed under the Hatch Act and applied to public employees at state and local levels. Currently, some of these restrictions are in effect in several states. For example, public employees are still prohibited from running for political office, participating in campaigns for/against political candidates (including their participation in fund-raining activities), sharing political ideas in publications, taking part in political parades, etc. According to researchers, these restrictions were adopted with the goal of protecting public employees from different forms of partisan political pressures and assisting them in maintaining the degree of neutrality of the public service (Berman, 1999). However, some public employees considered that these restrictions violated their constitutional rights, namely the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and “created second class citizenship for public employees” (Berman, 1999, p. 187).

Additionally, there is a need for considering the impact of equal employment opportunity on functioning of federal HR management. In other words, there is a need for considering the fundamental role of equality of access to  public service employment. Currently, equal access to positions in the field of public administration is one of the key features of the public employment relationship, which demonstrates the declining role of the doctrine of privilege. Besides, equal employment opportunity affects the overall functioning of the political system. Any restrictions to access to public service employment can be viewed as violations of the constitutional rights of applicants for the public service positions. According to Rosenbloom (2014), “although inequalities of access in the United States based upon social class status were emblematic of federal administration before the Jacksonian era, contemporary efforts to promote equal employment opportunity centre more on race, ethnicity and sex” (p. 92). In the late1940s, some members of the US Congress did not support the idea of providing equal employment opportunity, although the New Deal era was aimed at separating politics and developing anti-discrimination practices to ensure that policy making and public administration were focused on social representation. Since the late 1940s, the issue of equal employment opportunity has become the key issue in the government and has been reflected in policy initiatives and governmental executive orders, and other documentation. Actually, the US Constitution guarantees equal employment opportunity to all American citizens. For example, the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees equal protection of the established constitutional laws both at state and local levels. It is one of the basic liberty rights of American citizens at the federal level (Rosenbloom, 2014).

In fact, the loyalty security programs that were adopted and implemented in the year 1940s-1950s had considerable impact on the constitutional rights of federal employees. The constitutional rights of public employees were expanded to freedoms of speech and association, procedural rights and equal protection of the law. In other words, public employees were provided with greater constitutional protections in the area of job functions (Rosenbloom, 2014). The period of heterodoxy in the field of public administration was defined by the emergence of new policies that redefined the concept of a public employee. In this period, public employees were involved in political affairs and participated in policy formulation and implementation (Rosenbloom, 2014).

As a matter of fact, the current status of public employment relationship is shaped by the so-called Public Service Model which leads to the convergence with the private sector. The private centre is used to attain the governmental goals that are focused on “collaborative governance” (Rosenbloom, 2014, p. 9). It fosters shared authority through convergence arrangement. Due to collaborative governance, it is possible to function without contractual relationships that shape the division of labour between public employees and the employees employed in the private sector. This approach leads to the equal constitutional rights of public employees and those of ordinary American citizens (Rosenbloom, 2014).

As the constitutional aspects of public employment relationship play a critical role in determining the current status of public employees, it becomes clear that the law shapes this type of relationship.  Silver (2001) assumes that “the inherent tension between the recognition of public employee substantive and procedural rights and the overriding public interest in ensuring employee and agency accountability in a political democracy pervades all area of relevant law” (p. 3).

Public Service Model

In the years 1960s-1970s, there were significant changes in public employment relationship caused by replacement of the doctrine of privilege by the emphasis of the law on the rights of public employees. As mentioned by  Rosenbloom (2014), this “individual rights vision” supported litigation and contributed to establishing imbalanced relationship in the area of public employment. The emphasis was placed on the constitutional rights of public employees, but public employers’ interests were ignored. Currently, public employment constitutional rights are affected by the Public Service Model. This approach is focused on balancing the interests of public employees in recognition of their social status and the opportunities for exercising their constitutional rights, the interests of the government and the interests of the general public (Rosenbloom, 2014). According to researchers, instead of increasing the obvious incompatibility between the roles of an ordinary citizen and a public employee, the Public Service Model is aimed at bringing the constitutional rights of public employees closer to the constitutional rights of other citizens. This model provides the basis for the functioning of the judicial branch  in the area of public administration to shape public employee relationship (Rosenbloom, 2014).

In fact, the development of the Public Service Model refers to the period of heterodoxy in public administration. Equal protection was used as the key instrument in establishing constitutional doctrines. The major goal of the government was to reconsider the constitutional rights of public employees, private sector employees and government contractors in order to foster their engagement in “collaborative governance” (Rosenbloom, 2014, p. 130). Due to balancing the interests of individuals and the lack of discrimination, the Public Service Model helps to promote administrative values and equal opportunity in the field of public administration. Researchers suggest that the main principles of the Public Service Model highlight the primary role of the public employee, namely to assist citizens in articulation and meeting the shared interests rather than in  making attempt to ensure control of society (Dubnick, 2003). Serving the public is considered to be a high calling that involves the best employees to establish an administrative machine in order to act always in accordance with the constitutional law and the accepted precedents (Rosenbloom, 2014).

In general, the Public Service Model helps to resolve the issues of equal access to the field of public administration. The doctrine of privilege can not be used to define employment opportunities. This fact means that any immutable characteristics (e.g. race, gender, age, ethnicity) are not considered in the process of hiring. There is much evidence that the doctrine of privilege can be used as the legal foundation for justification of exclusions. In other words, public employee decisions and actions should not violate the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens (Rosenbloom, 2014). According to researchers,  ethical behaviours of public employees can be viewed as “social mechanisms constituted as norms and standards of behaviour generated as partial responses to the pressures created by accountability mechanisms” (Dubnick, 2003, p. 407). 

Actually, there are four key dimensions of public employment relationship, namely “the scope of individual constitutional rights, the roles of public employees in the political system, the quality of public management and the extent of the judiciary involvement in public administration” (Rosenbloom, 2014, p. 18). There are certain tensions between these dimensions that affect the rights of public employees. It is known that public employment relationship is shaped by the ideology of political movements and relevant political parties, as well as by their impact on social organization. Political dominance played an important role in national politics, according to researchers (Dubnick, 2003; Rosenbloom, 2014; Silver, 2001). Anyway, historical analysis of the factors that uninfluenced public employment relationship in different historical periods shows that public employment relationship is the products of the adopted and widely recognized constitutional laws (Rosenbloom, 2014).

Hence, Rosenbloom’s Public Service Model has its pros and cons. It is clear that public employee or government worker should be more open to communication, without any restrictions of the opportunity to participate in political activities, and be able to hold responsibility for decision making. The Public Service Model is focused on limiting judicial intrusion into public personnel management which leads to inconsistencies in protection of individual rights. Balancing the interests of public employees, the government and citizens, it is possible to achieve success in establishing democratic society. The enactment of the Hatch Act allowed the states to prohibit public employees’ participation in elections, while the courts used this act in civil rights cases. According to researchers, “discipline may, of course, be imposed if employees engage in partisan political activities in violation of laws, regulations, or even general standards of appropriate conduct” (Silver, 2001, p. 1096). There is a need for providing public employees with an opportunity to participate in union activities, including collective bargaining. Any conflicts of interest should be eliminated to ensure that public employees enjoy their constitutional rights. The constitutional law and relevant constitutional doctrines should be applied to public employees at federal, state and local levels of government. Although national development have a considerable impact on public employment relationship, political and administrative decisions should not shape public employment in a way that creates adverse outcomes (Rosenbloom, 2014; Silver, 2001).

All in all, in public administration, due attention should be paid to public employment relationship to ensure that public services are provided according to the law. Researchers highlight the role of ethics in public employment. According to the relevant research study, “ethics has most often been associated with standards of responsible behaviour and professional integrity in light of the growth of the administrative state and the expansion of discretionary powers to public sector bureaucracies” (Dubnick, 2003, p. 405). This fact means that public employment relationship should be  shaped by the demands of the law and the needs of the citizenry. It is prohibited make laws that violate  the adopted constitutional rights, such as right of religion, the right of speech, the right of press, assembly and petition. However, public employees, who work at the different levels of government, are  not protected from retaliation for exercising the above mentioned First Amendment rights. These laws are complicated as they affect the current public employment relationship. It is possible to make changes in these laws in order to support the equal opportunity of public employees and improve the quality of public services.    

Conclusion

Thus, it is necessary to conclude that the current public employment relationship is based on the US Constitution. In the book Federal Service and the Constitution, David H. Rosenbloom places emphasis on the history of the constitutional relationship between federal employees and the US government. He states that the changes in political, administrative, and institutional areas of American society point out to the fact that the federal service is relevant to the development of the constitutional doctrines that define public employees’ constitutional rights. Because of the significant changes in  development of American society since 1971, there have been certain changes in the federal bureaucracy. These changes contribute to protection  and expansion of employment rights, but at the same time the US Supreme Court decisions are still focused on destroying the special legal status of public employees. Considering the current status of the constitutional rights of public employees, it is possible to conclude that the recent US Supreme Court decisions contribute to reflection of the so-called shift to a specific model which is based on private sector practices. It is critical to avoid violations of the constitutional rights of public employees as citizens. The study of different aspects of the contemporary public employment relationship shows that certain changes should be made in the laws applicable to the field of public service. Public employee rights should not be too broad, but, at the same time, they should not be violated.

References

Berman, D. (1999). State and Local Politics. M.E. Sharpe.

Dubnick, M. (2003). “Accountability And Ethics: Reconsidering the Relationships,” International Journal of Organization Theory and Behaviour, 6(3): 405-441.

Rosenbloom, D. H. (2014). Federal Service and the Constitution, Second Edition: The Development of the Public Employment Relationship. Georgetown University Press.

Silver, I. (2001). Public Employee Discharge and Discipline. Aspen Publishers Online.

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