POLITICAL HIRING: Are You Being Denied a Job Because of Your Political Affiliation?

by Nicholas Scyoc | Special to the Salem-Keizer Sentinel

You’ve applied for an entry level job with the State of Oregon. You meet and exceed the minimal qualifications for the job. You have a bachelor’s degree with above a 3.0 grade point average, honorable military service discharge, no arrest or legal issues, no outstanding debt, great references, and you scrubbed your social media pages of any distasteful posts and pictures. You are the perfect applicant for the job!

You receive an e-mail notification from the state agency you applied to saying “Thank you for your interest in working for Oregon. …you were not selected amongst the most qualified of candidates.” Now imagine getting this same e-mail five times in a row. Obviously, you need to make changes to your resume, right? So you make changes to your resume, apply for five more jobs, and receive the same e-mail five more times. You change your resume again, apply for 25 more jobs, and receive the same e-mail 25 more times. After this point, you just have to wonder if it’s by coincidence, or is there an anomaly you’re not considering?

It would be one thing if you were receiving interviews, but to receive no interviews at all, makes it difficult to identify the problem. Employers can’t deny jobs because of race, age, or religious beliefs; but what if it was your political registration? All Oregonian’s voter registration can be looked up very simply by anyone, even a prospective employer using the information you submit when applying for a job. You may think this is far-fetched; however, this is a major part of our American history.

Prior to 1883, most government jobs were assigned due in large part to political affiliation. The spoils system or patronage system was clearly at play after the election of Democrat President Andrew Jackson. Jackson promised his supporters government jobs in exchange for their votes and after his election, he fulfilled that promise. Senator William L. Marcy (NY-D), coined the term “to the victor belong the spoils.”

The easiest way to explain the spoils system is thus: when the President or a Governor is elected, they obtain the right to appoint administrators and directors to various agencies and departments. During the spoils system, those newly appointed directors then picked their managers and staff. Let’s imagine that “John” campaigned for Andrew Jackson and the Democrat Party, in return, John was then hired as an accountant for one of the agencies. Eight years later, John would most likely be fired because he didn’t support Martin Van Buren or The Free Soil Party (Modern Day Republican Party).

In 1883, after the assassination of President James Garfield (R), from an incident relating to the spoils system; congress passed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. The Pendleton Act agreed that the hiring of a federal civil service employee must be by merit, and not by political affiliation, thereby ending the spoils system to a certain extent. Today, all Presidents’ and Governors’ still pick and choose their Administrators and Directors.

In 1938, evidence was discovered that the Democrat Party was using federal employees to work on campaigns out of their offices. By 1939 Senator Carl Hatch (NM-D), presented the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from participating in campaigns, running for a political position under a political party, or using their title of position in support of a candidate (e.g. I work for NASA, and I support “x” for president). The bill was revised in 1940 to include local and state governments from allowing politics in the office or using politics to influence votes from the office. Several revisions have been challenged on this specific law, some wanting to tighten it, some wanting to relax it. In 2012, President Barack Obama (D) signed the revision allowing state employees to run for political office, even if their job was mostly paid or fully paid for by federal government grants.

tweedcourthouseimagesmallIn New York City, from 1786-1930’s a notorious group called Tammany Hall (St. Tammany or Society of Tammany) campaigned for politicians, controlled jobs and the criminal elements of New York City. They later became the Democrat Party’s political machine and their sole job was to get people jobs for registering and voting democrat, and to convince others to register and vote democrat. Think back to the 2002 movie “Gangs of New York” which was based on the true story of William Poole “Bill the Butcher”, the enforcer of the Know Nothings gang and his adversary, John Morrissey “Old Smoke,” an enforcer for Tammany Hall. Morrissey later became a State Senator and U.S. Congressman and he had been previously arrested for assault and battery, burglary, and attempted murder.

New York City wasn’t the only city that required a certain political affiliation for obtaining a job. Chicago’s, Cook County Democrat Party required that employees not only be registered Democrats, but also made sure they voted for democrat candidates. By the process of “we got you elected; now you hire only Democrats” the people that campaigned for the “correct candidate” were awarded promotions and bonuses, while those who didn’t support the “correct candidate” were punished, demoted, or fired. Basically, if you wanted to be a librarian, maintenance worker or secretary you were strongly encouraged to register, campaign, and vote Democrat.

By 1969, a man named Michael Shakman filed a law suit with the Illinois Supreme Court (Michael L. Shakman, et al. vs. Democratic Organization of Cook County, et al., No. 69 C 2145) to enact the Shakman Decree. The Shakman Decree sought to stop mandatory party affiliation and voting for local government positions. Incredibly, this court case is ongoing.

There are several cases on the issue of political hiring and firing complaints all across the United States. In Branti v. Finkel 1980 (NY) several lawyers were fired for being registered Republican even though their jobs didn’t involve policy. In Wagner v. Jones 2011 (Iowa), a university of law denied a teaching job to a Republican professor/lawyer (only 1 out 50 faculty members were Republican). In Elrod v. Burns 1972 (IL) two Cook County employees were fired or threatened with termination by the newly elected Democrat Sheriff, because they did not belong to the Democrat Party. Even here in Oregon, in Diss v. Portland Public Schools et al 2014, a math teacher named Bill Diss, was relieved of his job for his objection to the presence of Planned Parenthood in his classroom.

In 1904, author Lincoln Steffens published an essay called “Tweed Days in St. Louis”, an investigation into the political machine of St. Louis, Missouri. That same year, Steffens wrote “The Shame of the Cities” targeted several cities across the United States as having large political machines that produced single party wins by means of corruption. Also in 1904, author Ray Stannard Baker wrote “The Right to Work” in which he studied the treatment and violence perpetrated towards non-unionized miners. Steffens, Stannard Baker and other such authors, most famously Upton Sinclair, become known as “Muckrackers.”

Today, employers can get around all of these legal issues with one simple step: an internet search. Once an employer weeds out the applicants that don’t qualify based on experience and before making any phone calls or sending any e-mails, they then decide who the “best fit” for the position is. The employer can then perform a simple search with your information on Oregon’s Secretary of State website. By entering your full name, and date of birth they can see your political affiliation.

So, after 25-50-100 applications being denied, what would you think? Are you up against that much competitive competition? Did the employer hire someone with a master’s degree that was also a veteran? Or maybe the employer has a particular preference for people that work in their office. The most powerful resource to check your political registration is only a few clicks away and it may be the key as to why you’re on your 101st application for a job.

Nicholas Scyoc is a 2013 graduate of Western Oregon University where he earned a bachelor of science degree in Public Policy and Administration. He is a husband and father of three, he enjoys reading and writing about political issues from all angles, and he thrives on lively, passionate debate.

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