HRA Butts In

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When Human Resources Administration Commissioner Jason Turner was shipped in from Wisconsin to overhaul New York City’s welfare system, he put work first on the agenda, transformed “income centers” into “job centers,” and, with a little help from his cronies, revamped the tired old bureaucracy into a sleek new ideological machine.

Apparently the redecorating was more than just ideological.

The brave new HRA also features the latest in upscale ergonomic design: Herman Miller Aeron chairs. The envy of boardroom types and bureaucrats alike, the chairs are made with special air-permeable mesh that moderates body temperature. They use something called “the Kinemat tilt” to automatically adjust to the sitter’s movement and another thing called “anthropometrics” to accommodate nearly any size, shape or body type. According to an industrial design expert who voted it the “Design of the Decade,” the Aeron chair “evolved to become a design classic…add[ing] to the quality of work life.”

The workfare workers who sued the city for access to drinking water and bathrooms on the job will doubtless be happy to hear about HRA’s newfound dedication to ergonomic standards. But are the welfarecrats whose behinds grace these seats actually doing any work in these luxury lounges? Well, according to Herman Miller’s web site, “people who sit down for long periods of time run a high risk of low-back injury, second only to those who lift heavy weights.” And welfare workers sanctioned for failing to show up for their job assignments will be especially glad to know that “in the Aeron chair, the sitter pays no penalty–in terms of comfort, support, or effort expended–to achieve the benefits of seated movement.”

And what about the less-than-lissome Commissioner himself–does Herman Miller’s special, anthropometrically calibrated extra-large Aeron cradle his capacious can? HRA failed to return phone calls inquiring as to the make and model of the Commissioner’s chair. But on a recent visit to the Office of the Commissioner on HRA’s 25th floor, City Limits counted more than 25 Aerons around the table in the main conference room.