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The de Blasio administration has postponed all its in-person civil service exams indefinitely as it explores administering tests online.

The city delayed all its hiring and promotion exams scheduled since March 17 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It marks the first time since the 1970s fiscal crisis that the tests have been halted, according to multiple veteran labor leaders.

The move comes as the city, facing an estimated $544 million budget gap this current fiscal year and $830 million the next, has enacted a hiring freeze for positions not related to public safety or the coronavirus crisis.

Civil service exams administered at one of the city’s five test sites can handle up to 200 applicants who are seated relatively close to one another.

Several union officials said they understood the city’s need to delay the exams to help stem the spread of the virus.

“I think it’s understandable given the extent of the coronavirus,” said Robert Croghan, president of the Organization of Staff Analysts.

“I am concerned over the long term,” added Croghan, who is also a longtime member of the Civil Service Merit Council, which advocates for more testing to prevent patronage hires.

One labor expert said he was worried the city might use the situation to hire workers on the cheap.

“There is a danger of public agencies trying to circumvent the usual procedures to save money,” said Joshua Freeman, a professor of labor history at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

He cited the MTA’s move to hire private contractors without health insurance for as little as $18 an hour to deep clean the subways.

“These are workers paid quite poorly by companies that do not seem to be acting fairly,” Freeman said.

Seating Reduced

City officials hope to restart so-called “education and experience”-based civil service evaluations in June. Those reviews do not require applicants to make in-person visits.

All told, seven hiring and promotion exams have been postponed since the city shut down in mid March. The positions include job titles such as fire protection inspector, construction project manager and police communications technician.

The city has also stopped accepting applications for jobs that include correction officer, public health advisor, child protective specialist and school safety agent.

A Correction Department bus waits outside Manhattan Criminal Court, April 20, 2020. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

When the city begins holding tests again, the seating capacity at the city’s civil service testing centers will be reduced by nearly 70%, according to Nick Benson, a spokesperson for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which oversees the exams.

“Priority will be given to those exams for public safety titles and for which there are high numbers of provisional employees,” he said, noting the department was exploring “online testing options.”

The city always has the ability to hire people provisionally if a civil service list of candidates does not exist for a specific title. But those provisional employees lack equivalent job protections to regular city workers and are supposed to be replaced within two months after a civil service list is created.

City government employs 15,008 provisionals, with 12,075 of those deemed “illegal” as of April 30, according to a DCAS report.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city has reduced that count to its lowest level since City Hall began tracking the figure in 1990.

After the 2008 financial meltdown, the Bloomberg administration took some heat after it continued to hold civil service exams, some which required filing fees, despite a citywide hiring freeze.

DCAS officials at that time argued that it needed to continually update and expand its hiring pool for when the economy improved.

City jobs have long been a way for immigrants and people in low-income communities to gain work with health benefits and a pension, said Freeman.

“In the short run this does limit opportunities,” he said. “The test isn’t the issue. The lack of jobs is going to be the issue.”

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