Monday, October 20th, 2014
Half-True
Robitaille
Because of union rules, cooks helpers moved into DMV jobs they were not trained for

John Robitaille on Sunday, July 11th, 2010 in a comment on Newsmakers

Robitaille says union rules allowed cooks helpers to get DMV jobs

No Rhode Island state agency is more reviled than the Division of Motor Vehicles.

And let's face it, with waits that have stretched to seven hours, branch closures and antiquated computing systems, there's not much to like.

Seems like we've heard all the complaints. But Republican candidate for governor John Robitaille, speaking on WPRI Channel 12's weekly Newsmakers show earlier this month, offered a new one.

Former attorney general Arlene Violet, one of the panelists, asked Robitaille about the Carcieri administration's role in the problems at the DMV. (Before launching his own bid for governor, Robitaille had served as Carcieri's communications director.)

In recalling his frustrations with the registry, Robitaille told the Newsmakers panel: "We had cook's helpers that, because of their union status and seniority in other parts of state government, had the right to move into the DMV, not trained for the jobs."

It was not surprising to hear Robitaille make this sort of claim. The Carcieri administration has long maintained that union personnel rules have hampered its ability to rejigger state agencies and realign staff.

But when we asked Robitaille to back it up, he didn't offer much help. Citing what he said was data from the state's Department of Administration, he told us there was one former cook's helper now working as a DMV customer service representative.

He then insisted there are many more former cook's helpers working within the registry. But he said the Human Resources department couldn't confirm that without a time-consuming manual search and he refused to request such a search or provide additional proof.

"They have more important things to do. I stand by the information I was given by former members of the administration that there were in fact several employees who bumped into the DMV from cook's helpers positions in the recent past," he wrote in an email.

The problem is, he refused to provide us with any evidence.

So we filed our own public records request.  The data we received revealed that there are three former cook's helpers currently working at the DMV.

Despite what Robitaille said, none is a customer service representative. The list shows that one is a senior clerk and one a Spanish interpreter, both of whom previously worked as cook's helpers at Rhode Island College. The third, a senior teller, worked as a cook's helper at what is now known as the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

There was some truth to the first part of Robitaille's statement. But what about the second part, that the transfers of cook's helpers to the DMV were connected to their "union status or seniority" and that they arrived at the DMV "not trained for the jobs."

According to Melanie Marcaccio, deputy personnel administrator for the Department of Administration, applicants for these jobs would have to meet education and experience requirements, regardless of their union status.

The official job descriptions all require a high school degree and related experience. For the senior clerk, that means clerical experience. For the senior teller it's supervisory experience, with involvement in payment and accounting practices. And for the interpreter it means "the ability to speak, read and write Spanish."

For most job classifications, a civil service examination is also required. Candidates who score high enough are placed on a list to be given preference if a job opens up.

Maureen Tripp, president of the union representing DMV workers, defended her members' training. "They had to take the civil service test, receive a score, had a ranking and were interviewed," she said. "They were deemed qualified at the time they applied."

But there's a complication. The state only administers these tests periodically, if at all, depending on job classification, according to Marcaccio. Those who have not yet taken the test are therefore considered temporary, pending their scores on the exam. When and if the test is eventually given, they must do well enough, or risk losing their jobs.

The three former cook's helpers now at the DMV have not taken the test, she said.

However that doesn't automatically make them unqualified. They'd still have to have the necessary education and experience.

It's that background that deems them qualified for appointment to the job, regardless of their union seniority, Marcaccio confirmed. Once it is determined who meets the specifications, preference is given to those with the most seniority.

While Robitaille's statement that there are a handful of former cook's helpers among the almost 150 DMV employees is correct, he couldn't support his claim that they weren't qualified.

We all know the registry needs an overhaul, but it's important to focus on the facts. We rate this Half True.