Public Hearing to Discuss DOL Layoffs

Department of Labor, (DOL) layoffs that will consolidate work centers while saving $16 million-to make up for reductions in federal funding-will be effective by the beginning of October, but a Connecticut-wide advocacy group is urging the state to slam on the brakes.

The Connecticut Parents Union has requested a public hearing on the layoffs and consolidations, which they worry will negatively impact low-income job seekers, and that’s a petition that they’ve taken all the way to the United States DOL. As of Thursday, they have one-set for 11 a.m. this Monday at the Capitol Building in Hartford.

“We need a public discussion on this,” said Gwen Samuel, an organizer with The Connecticut Parents Union. “This shouldn’t be happening in isolation from the people. This has a ripple effect on New Haven’s urban population.”

When the Connecticut DOL received word of reduced federal funding under the unemployment-rate based federal formula, it announced the elimination of 95 Department positions. The number of American Jobs Centers will be cut from 11 to 6, with Centers in Danielson, Bridgeport, Hamden, Harford, New London and Waterbury.

The state’s unemployment rate is currently 5.7 percent, compared to 2010-2011’s 9 percent.

The layoffs are effective as of October 1, due to collective bargaining provisions mandating six weeks’ notice.

“It is extraordinarily difficult to have to reduce staff, especially given the enormous contributions of these Department of Labor employees in getting Connecticut residents back to work during our long struggle to bring down unemployment in the state,” said Office of Policy Management Secretary Ben Barnes in a press release.  “We are all fully committed to helping these valuable employees find new positions in state government or elsewhere, as soon as possible.”

New Haven’s unemployment rate dropped from over 10 percent to 7.9 percent last year, according to Yale Daily News coverage. Currently, it’s at 7.6 percent, by the DOL’s own statistics. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story-people are still struggling to find work, Samuel says.

And a whole new influx of people will be entering the workforce from the correctional system, she says. That’s something that Governor Dan Malloy’s Second Chance Society-a slew of programs designed to better transition the former prison population into jobs-was designed to address, as activists have pointed out.

“I think some of these things were a posturing,” Samuel says. “Because this is contrary to that.”

That’s something that Russell Williams, a member of the NAACP who is running for President of the Connecticut Chapter, is stressing the most.

“How could they put out the Second Chance bill when in just a few months, there’s going to be a closing of offices of the Department of Labor?” Williams said over the phone. “We don’t know how it is that they intend to get results for those entering the job market. We need to put in place something that ensures compliance.”

Samuel and Connecticut Parents Union also worry about the issue of transportation. If centers are being consolidated, job seekers may have to travel to other municipalities to utilize DOL services. Public officials have already voiced what they say is a need to revamp the Greater New Haven area public transit system, with New Haven Mayor Toni Harp laying out a plan to restructure bus routes as part of a more comprehensive transportation blueprint.

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