State job­less cen­ter work­ers be­ing laid off

Em­ploy­ees caught in fund­ing dis­pute be­tween gov­er­nor, Se­nate Repub­li­cans.

The Times-Tribune - - Local / State - BY MARK SCOL­FORO

HAR­RIS­BURG — Hun­dreds of state em­ploy­ees caught in an un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion pro­gram fund­ing dis­pute be­tween Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf ’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and Se­nate Repub­li­cans spent their last day on the job Mon­day be­fore they qual­ify for job­less ben­e­fits them­selves.

Of­fi­cials said there were no signs of a last-minute re­prieve that could help about 520 peo­ple avoid be­ing laid off less than a week be­fore Christ­mas from the state De­part­ment of La­bor and In­dus­try’s un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion call cen­ters.

Mr. Wolf ’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is cut­ting jobs and clos­ing un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion call cen­ters in Al­len­town, Al­toona and Lan­caster with­out the $58 mil­lion from un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion tax rev­enue it said is nec­es­sary to main­tain the cen­ters at cur­rent staff lev­els.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans wrapped up the cham­ber’s leg­isla­tive busi­ness with­out vot­ing on the fund­ing bill sought by Mr. Wolf, say­ing they were un­sat­is­fied with Mr. Wolf ’s an­swers on how the money would be used. Se­nate Repub­li­cans have not com­mit­ted to ap­prov­ing fund­ing when they re­turn to the Capi­tol next month.

Diane Bow­man, of the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union Lo­cal 668, which rep­re­sents more than 300 of the af­fected work­ers, said, “I would hope that would be the case, but I don’t have any rea­son to be­lieve it’s go­ing to hap­pen mag­i­cally.”

The fi­nal count of lay­offs was still be­ing set­tled Mon­day, as small num­bers of work­ers were sim­ply re­tir­ing or find­ing other po­si­tions.

One of the laid-off work­ers, Penny Er­ney, a claims ex­am­iner in Har­ris­burg, said she has no job prospects but hopes the state may call her back. She said the office held a good­bye lun­cheon on Fri­day for her and oth­ers fac­ing lay­offs but some­thing was lack­ing.

“I mean, ev­ery­thing was there — the food was there, it was de­li­cious,” Ms. Er­ney said. “It’s just, a cel­e­bra­tive mood wasn’t.”

Many of the work­ers have filed ap­peals to the State Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, say­ing they should not be laid off when funds are avail­able and there is work that needs to be done. Com­mis­sion spokesman Jack McGet­ti­gan said five more ap­peals were re­ceived Mon­day. He said the ap­peals will be pre­sented to the com­mis­sion at its Jan­uary meet­ing.

Mr. Wolf has blamed the Se­nate GOP for the lay­offs, say­ing he has given it in­for­ma­tion about the Ser­vice Im­prove­ment and In­fra­struc­ture Fund.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly ap­proved a four-year fund­ing bill in 2013 in re­sponse to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s ac­cu­sa­tion the state wasn’t pay­ing first-time job­less ben­e­fits quickly enough. A fifth year of fund­ing passed the state House over­whelm­ingly in Oc­to­ber.

But Se­nate Repub­li­cans balked, say­ing they wanted more de­tails about how the money would be spent. Sen. Scott Wag­ner, R-York, said he wants more ac­count­abil­ity from the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“You ask one ques­tion, you get an an­swer,” said Mr. Wag­ner, who met with af­fected em­ploy­ees at the un­em­ploy­ment call cen­ter in Al­toona last week. “And that an­swer prompts an­other ques­tion. It’s like the gift that keeps on giv­ing.”

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