AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer says planned layoffs and office closures in the Illinois Department of Employment Security will hurt services to the unemployed while leaving the agency with too many top managers.
With no forewarning and no notification provided to the union, on Jan. 10 the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced plans to lay off nearly 200 employees and close seven local offices. IDES director Jay Rowell claimed the layoffs were necessitated by cuts in federal funding, but the union is skeptical of that claim and has requested financial documentation from the department. IDES is almost entirely funded by federal dollars.
The latest layoff threat comes on the heels of the layoff of more than 200 intermittent employees and the closure of four offices at the end of last year.
“We believe there is more going on here than meets the eye,” Bayer said. He noted that while intermittents are frequently “non-scheduled” when the caseload in IDES declines, this is the first time in memory that intermittents have effectively been told they are being laid off and should not expect to be scheduled again in the foreseeable future. The union questions how the department could possibly know that unemployment claims will not rise again within the coming year.
AFSCME budget analysts have determined that IDES staffing levels now are already lower than they were before the current recession began—and unemployment soared—in 2009.
Council 31 has consulted with the union’s Washington, DC staff who have reviewed the federal UI cuts to Illinois funding with staff at the US Department of Labor. While it’s true that federal funding has been cut over the past year, the percentage reduction is far less than the percentage of staff that IDES has or plans to cut.
So where has all the money gone? One answer is to hire high-paid management staff with hazy job descriptions and no clearly defined responsibilities.
But there’s another possibility that’s of even greater concern: Maybe the cuts aren’t necessary at all. Many employees believe the layoffs and office closures are intended to force unemployed workers to apply for benefits electronically and reduce headcount to boost Pat Quinn’s claim that he’s trimming state government.
There’s no doubt that the cuts will make it much more difficult for jobless workers to obtain the unemployment benefits that they need. Office closures mean claimants will have to travel much farther to apply for benefits or return for job search assistance. And when they get to those offices, the waits will be much longer because there will be fewer employees to process claims.
In the IDES press release about the closures and layoffs, Director Rowell appeared to be trying to convey that claimants will have difficulty getting their benefits unless they apply electronically. But many jobless workers don’t have access to or aren’t comfortable with computers, and will likely have to go to much greater lengths to get the help they need.
The union has sent a “demand to bargain” letter to IDES pointing out that the agency violated the union contract by failing to notify AFSCME in a timely and appropriate manner.
AFSCME is continuing to press IDES for a full accounting of the funding cuts that supposedly necessitate these layoffs