The Times-Tribune

State jobless center workers being laid off

Employees caught in funding dispute between governor, Senate Republican­s.

- 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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