More than 500 people employed at three of Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation offices are losing their jobs right before Christmas.
The reason was political, and has erupted into a partisan battle.
But behind the scenes at the Altoona, Lancaster, and Allentown UC centers, the furloughed employees and state officials are working make sense of the situation.
The news of the layoffs came November 16th, after the GOP-led Senate declined to vote on a funding bill that had been supported by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.
Two days later, Labor and Industries Secretary Kathy Manderino was giving a teleconference speech to the laid-off workers -- telling them the funding loss had shocked her, and they deserve better.
Now, the state and the unions that represent the furloughed workers are assisting them.
Carla Hodge, with AFSCME Local 13, said right now, they’re working to get some people re-employed as quickly as possible.
Under their contracts, “they have placement rights,” she explained. “So [state workers] come in, they help them fill out applications, and they help fit them into other state positions where they are available.”
Employees can also file appeals to claim they’re being wrongfully furloughed, and many have done so.
James Jensen is one of the furloughed workers, as is his wife. He said they aren’t taking their disappointment at losing their jobs out on Manderino.
The couple got the opportunity to meet her soon after her speech, and Jensen said they shook her hand and thanked her for making the best of the situation.
“For a brief moment,” he said, “we were in the position of comforting the Secretary, letting her know we did not blame her, and hopefully relieving her of some the burden she was bearing.”