The Times reviewed 399 disciplinary cases involving 233 state workers who were accused of one of seven serious offenses, including physical abuse and neglect, since 2008. In each of the cases examined, the agency had substantiated the charges, and the worker had been previously disciplined at least once.
In 25 percent of the cases involving physical, sexual or psychological abuse, the state employees were transferred to other homes.
The state initiated termination proceedings in 129 of the cases reviewed but succeeded in just 30 of them, in large part because the workers’ union, the Civil Service Employees Association, aggressively resisted firings in almost every case. A few employees resigned, even though the state sought only suspensions.
The Civil Service Employees Association, one of the most powerful unions in Albany, makes no apologies for its vigorous defense of the group-home workers it represents.
But the union’s approach — contesting just about every charge leveled at a worker — has contributed to a system in which firings of even the most abusive employees are rare. Most disciplinary measures represent a compromise between management and the union, often reached at the urging of an arbitrator chosen by both sides.
Ross D. Hanna, the director of contract administration for the association, likened the union’s role to that of public defenders, saying it was required by state law to represent its members.
“If they’re brought up on charges, we have an absolute duty to represent them,” Mr. Hanna said. “That’s our job.”
He added: “When we know the person is guilty, we try to convince the person to get out of it by resigning. But if the person decides to go forward, we have to do our best job.”