Although the drawn-out union concession process has been over for weeks, lingering labor issues remain–including the case of a group of social workers from the Department of Children and Families who rallied Wednesday asking that their layoffs be rescinded.
“I know the state is not legally required to hire us back, but I also know what’s right and moral,” said Thaddea Brown, one of the laid off social workers from the Stamford office. “If the state truly cares about protecting children and families, then our jobs will be restored.”
AFSCME Local 2663 President Paul Lavallee, whose union represents 2,500 workers in human and social services, said unions continue to work through hard feelings left after the concessions agreement. He said the continuing layoffs of 37 social workers is part of that lingering discontent.
“I believe that we’re still working through some wounds that we’re trying to heal,” Lavellee said. “We felt there was a better way to do it, but [Gov. Danel P. Malloy] is still our boss and we need to work together.”
The 37 laid off social workers were not classified as “permanent” state employees on July 1 when Malloy and state unions were working to ratify a second $1.6 billion union concessions agreement after unions failed to ratify the first. At the time, Malloy said he planned to lay off more than 4,700 state workers, starting with non-permanent positions, to make up for labor savings if a second agreement failed.
Unions ratified the second agreement in August and many of the permanent position layoffs were rescinded. Lavallee said DCF Commissioner Joette Katz made a mistake by not rescinding the 37 non-permanent DCF layoffs, although she had no legal obligation to do so. Lavellee said the 37 workers, who all voted in favor of the concessions agreement, were classified as “non-permanent” although some worked beyond their 10-month probationary period.
He said the non-permanent employees who passed their probationary period remained non-permanent due to a lack of available permanent positions. The workers were granted durational positions and when a permanent position opened up, non-permanent employees could step in.
Stefany Accino, another laid off social worker from the Stamford office, said she left with a full case load.
“Getting laid off is not only upsetting to me, but it’s also upsetting to the children and families whose cases I handled,” she said.
She said she also left while working toward her master’s degree in social work from Fordham University, which the state was helping to pay for. She said her case load and her training led her to believe she had a future with DCF and that her layoff only further damages her clients.
“Why would you let someone go after investing in their training like that?” she said. Accino said one of her clients, a 14-year-old girl, cried when she found out she was losing her social worker.
“I was leaving when everything was unstable in her life,” Accino said. “She knew she had me.”
“These kids are already going through a lot of changes,” Brown said. “We are the only stable thing in these kids’ lives.”
Brown said DCF workers weren’t overextended with case loads, but the workers who inherited her case load didn’t exactly have light loads themselves.
“For them to have to inherit full case loads spreads them kind of thin,” she said.
Gary Kleeblatt, DCF spokesman, said the caseloads of current DCF workers are manageable, but he added that the layoffs were a difficult decision.
“The layoffs of these employees during their working test period was a decision made in consultation with department staff and others focusing on ensuring that the needs of the children are met first and foremost,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “These new staff members were dedicated, talented and energetic individuals, and we regret the separation that circumstances and fiscal responsibility made necessary.”
Larry Dorman, spokesman for SEBAC, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said Malloy hasn’t responded to the social workers’ request. Malloy’s office declined to comment, deferring to DCF.