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Upheaval coming for roughly 400 state employees

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A consolidation of personnel functions within New Mexico state government ordered earlier this year by Gov. Susana Martinez could mean upheaval for roughly 400 current employees.

State officials have been tight-lipped in recent weeks about exactly how many workers might be transferred or laid off, but they say any who lose their jobs could apply for new positions despite an ongoing state hiring freeze.

Meanwhile, much of the streamlining is expected to be completed by July, and a State Personnel Office spokesman said implementation of the plan is already underway in some agencies.

“The consolidation will save the state a significant amount of money and will make state government more streamlined and efficient,” State Personnel Office spokesman Joseph Cueto said. “All HR professionals in state government will be affected by the consolidation in one way or another.”

However, no exact figures have been provided as to how many of the roughly 400 employees will be transferred from their current agency to the State Personnel Office, how many will be reassigned within their current agencies and how many might be fired.

Any dismissed workers would have the ability to apply for other vacant state government jobs they’re qualified for – though there’s no guarantee they’d be hired.

Some union leaders have expressed concern the change could lead to drawn-out disputes between employees and management, since executive branch agencies will no longer have their own in-house human resources staff.

“Now it’s going to be a very autocratic system,” Miles Conway, communications director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in New Mexico, said in an interview this week.

Conway, whose union does not represent human resources employees, also said Martinez administration claims of cost savings likely means job losses.

It wouldn’t be the first time the state has laid off workers in recent years. The State Personnel Board last year approved a Cultural Affairs Department plan to cut 11 staff positions, and in 2011 signed off on a plan to lay off 44 employees, most of them with the Public Education Department.

Martinez, the state’s two-term Republican governor, in February ordered that all personnel functions within New Mexico executive branch agencies be consolidated within a single agency in an attempt to improve efficiency and save “millions” of dollars.

The order shifts all such duties to the State Personnel Office, which already oversees hiring and disciplinary matters for roughly 18,000 rank-and-file state employees.

But finding room to absorb a large number of new employees could prove tricky. The State Personnel Office is housed in a roughly 42,000-square foot building in Santa Fe that was constructed in 1940, and has asked to be able to adjust its budget to buy more office equipment and furniture.

In all, the state has 23 Cabinet-level departments and more than 40 administrative agencies, and for years many of them have had their own human resources offices to handle internal policies, rules and personnel directives.