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State workers in ‘wait-and-see’ mode as layoff warnings go out

Post by Melissa Santos / The Olympian on June 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm | No Comments »
June 24, 2013 7:22 pm

CAPITOL CAMPUS BUILDINGS 13010301 TEOAs state employees began receiving notices Monday that they could be furloughed starting July 1, worry and uncertainty prevailed at many offices.

Some state workers remained optimistic that lawmakers would pass a budget in time to avoid any temporary layoffs, while others expressed frustration that the Legislature, which is in the middle of a second 30-day overtime session to finalize a two-year spending plan, still hadn’t completed its work.

Should lawmakers fail to pass a budget before June 30, a government shutdown will begin July 1, completely closing 34 state offices and partially shutting down 24 others, state officials said last week. On Monday, state human resources officials posted information aimed at answering workers’ questions about the potential furloughs.

“I am personally in a wait-and-see mode,” said DeFrance Clarke, an information technology specialist who works at the Department of Labor and Industries headquarters in Tumwater. Clarke received a temporary layoff notice Monday.

Many people in Clarke’s office have started filing for unemployment benefits, he said. About 98 percent of Labor and Industries employees are affected by the temporary layoffs, he said.

“I don’t anticipate it will actually go through,” Clarke said. “People are worried, yes, but waiting.”

James Robinson, president of the Local 793 union of employees at Western State Hospital, said that while only about 1 percent of employees at Western  are expected to receive furlough notices, that didn’t eliminate the uneasiness around the office Monday, he said.

“People are still worried because we’re in uncharted territory,” Robinson said. “This has never happened to us before.”

Ken Blair, an employee at the Department of Social and Health Services’ Division of Child Support, said that no one in his office had received layoff notices as of 3:30 p.m. Monday, but they were expecting them to arrive at any time. Blair said many of his colleagues have expressed frustration with the state Senate, which he described as “the holdup for the budget.”

“The House has already passed a budget, the governor has approved that budget, and we’re just waiting for the Senate to do something,” said Blair, who is also the president of the Local 53 state employee union in Tacoma. “We feel like we’re being held hostage.”

Many DSHS workers fear how their clients who benefit from social services will fare if the department shuts down, Blair said. Employees also worry about their families’ personal finances, he said.

“How are we going to pay our mortgages, how are we going to put fuel in our cars, how are we going to buy groceries?” Blair said. “We have more questions than answers.”

The temporary layoff notices that went out Monday may well be a fire drill, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday afternoon that a budget deal was “imminent.”

Should Inslee sign a budget into law by the end of the day Sunday, no shutdown would occur.

Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said that he believes a deal will come together in time, but it could be close.

“We’ll take the governor at face value, but again, we’ve heard optimism before — that they were close before,” Welch said. “I do believe they will get done on time, but it may not be until 11:59 on Sunday night.”

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