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Details emerge on parks layoffs

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Dec. 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
December 20, 2011 1:36 pm

The state Parks and Recreation Commission expects to issue pink slips next week and says 83 of the state’s 189 full-time park rangers stand to lose their current jobs.

Sixteen of 76 construction and maintenance workers also will go, the agency says. Plus, the equivalent of more than 23 full-time jobs will be eliminated at parks headquarters in Olympia and in regional offices around the state.

Many of the employees being let go will be offered other work, says the agency, which didn’t have exact numbers on total layoffs. But to stay on, most rangers would have to take a major pay cut and work as little as five months of the year in one of 63 new seasonal jobs being created.

The layoffs are proceeding despite a plea from a dozen lawmakers to hold off. Those legislators and the union that represents parks workers were alarmed earlier this month when 160 parks employees received notification their jobs were at risk. They complained that front-line maintenance workers and rangers are taking larger cuts than administrators. But parks commission Chairman Joe Taller says support staff and management have been hit harder than rangers over several rounds of cuts.

Lawmakers in their letter to commissioners said the cuts will leave “over a one-to-one ratio between management staff and permanent field staff.” But that makes “management staff” out to be much larger than it is. Spokeswoman Virginia Painter said management is being reduced to 28 or 29 people.

The cuts will leave 439 full-time-equivalent field jobs. But you can’t compare those two figures, because the 439 includes part-time jobs added together to make a full-time job. I’ve asked the agency for the number of year-round employees. The union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, estimates it will be 180 after cuts.

The federation says the one-to-one ratio is actually a comparison of those field staff to employees in headquarters and the regional offices. It estimates there will be about 214 of those employees after the cuts — mostly front-line workers and support staff, not managers.

The parks commission says there are actually just 94 headquarters positions and 12 regional positions — but that count doesn’t include employees who are paid with federal money or capital-construction money.

The reason for the cuts is lagging sales of the Discover Pass, the $30 annual fee for parking on state lands. Taller said parks will have to ask lawmakers for more money from the state’s general fund — at least in the next budget cycle if not this one. But in the meantime, he said, layoffs are necessary even though they will reduce park maintenance.

“I appreciate them saying ‘Hey, wait,’ but to me I think it would be irresponsible to wait and spend more money,” Taller said.

“I think we’re getting through to some of the politicians that they’re facing a real disaster.”

 

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