The state Employment Security Department has sent out two more rounds of “at-risk” layoff notices to hundreds of workers, part of the agency’s slim-down after the Great Recession.
All told about 400 jobs are being wiped off the books in the agency that pays out unemployment compensation and also helps unemployed workers get jobs. Because roughly 140 positions had been kept vacant, the number of people eventually handed pink slips is going to be far less that those getting warned they are at risk of layoffs.
“It will be a few weeks before we know exactly how many people are ‘out the door,’ ” agency spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said this week in an email.
As we reported in March, the agency has had three rounds of cuts in the past year and a half – shrinking worker headcounts from about 2,700 to about 2,000. Many of those cuts echoed the falling jobless rate – which was 7.3 percent statewide in March, down from a peak of 10.2 percent in late 2009 and early 2010.
Gov. Jay Inslee appointed new commissioner Dale Peinecke to take over the agency after last fall’s election. Peinecke came in during January and called for a broader look at the level of staffing that would be sustainable for a longer period.
Once the current round of cuts is completed, the agency is expected to employ closer to 1,600 to 1,700 workers.
Under rules governing layoffs, workers often have a right to “bump” into old jobs they had previously, which can set off a long and unpredictable chain of personnel dominoes.
“We’re in the thick of it. Two waves of at-risk notices have gone out … and a third wave of at-risk notices will go out soon,” Hutchison explained. “Due to the size of the layoff, we expect there will be about 5 waves of notices. The majority of layoffs will take effect on May 31, then a smaller group on June 15.”
Hutchison said a first round of “bump option” selections were due from workers on Monday.
Rank-and-file workers have been scrambling to find new positions. The Washington Federation of State Employees estimated that about 200 members got notices this week.
“I think we’re all glad the economy is getting better. I don’t think anybody is overjoyed when they lose their jobs,” said Carol Dotlich, president of the federation, which represents more than 40,000 public-sector workers in state agencies and universities.
“I think management has been saying along layoffs are coming. I don’t think people expected so many rounds of layoffs,’’ Dotlich added.
The cuts are reducing the number of union members, too. “Our Seattle local had about 680 members who worked at Employment Security in the King County area,” Dotlich said. “They are down to I think 280 and that’s before this latest round.”