St. Paul to pay $225K after violating veterans hiring law

More than 400 St. Paul employees will get a 1 percent raise because the Department of Veterans Affairs found some of the city's hiring practices violated state law.

The pay increases will cost the city $225,000 this year. The extra money is meant to compensate workers from four unions for giving up long-standing "promotion rights." Those rights embedded in union contracts gave existing employees first dibs on new job openings in the city.

In October, Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito ruled that system conflicted with a state law designed to give preference to veterans applying for public sector positions.

Brian Balfanz, a Gulf War veteran who works as a research analyst in the St. Paul Police Department, challenged the rules after the city failed to interview him for a higher-paying job as a parks supervisor. After the ruling, he got the interview, but didn't win the position.

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"While it doesn't guarantee my client a job and he didn't get a job as a result of this, I can't help but think we got the process right for veterans in the future," said attorney John Baker, who represented Balfanz in the case.

Balfanz still has his old job at the city.

Promotion rights have been part of St. Paul's civil service rules for decades, and they forced the city to award most positions to internal candidates.

"I would say 80 percent of the time that's how we hired, maybe even higher," Human Resources Director Angie Nalezny said.

But even before Shellito's ruling, the city had been taking steps to open up its hiring process. Three other city unions gave up their promotion rights in contract negotiations two years ago.