Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, says Gov. Tom Wolf is “playing politics with people’s lives” by planning to close three unemployment compensation (UC) call centers less than a week before Christmas.
Wagner also claimed the governor and his administration had planned to close at least one of those three call centers – the Lancaster facility – prior to the UC funding issue Wolf has said prompted his decision. The senator, who has been the focus of plenty of labor union and administration criticism during the battle over funding, said he learned of those plans during a visit with Lancaster UC call center employees late last week.
“What I learned is shocking,” Wagner told state Capitol reporters during a Dec. 5 Capitol Rotunda press conference. “Many of the employees agree with my colleagues and I that these closings are purely political. I was told that employees had been hearing for months that the Lancaster call center may be closing in June of 2017 anyway.”
A source close to the UC call center situation said for roughly the past 6 months there have been at least perceived threats, from the perspective of call center staff, of closures and furloughs based on funding, but nothing concrete. Each of the smaller centers has thought they were on the chopping block at some point during that time, with rumors of several different scenarios involving staff reductions and center closures to help overcome funding shortfalls, said the source.
When asked if he was accusing the Wolf administration of using the current funding issue as a way to redirect blame at Senate Republicans for potential closings the administration may already be planning during the next several months, Wagner said, “Yes.”
Wolf spokesman Mark Nicastre wrote in an email that “prior to the outcome of HB2375, the administration had not made any decisions” regarding the closure of any centers.
However, Department of Labor and Industry spokeswoman Sara Goulet confirmed a center closing has been under consideration by the department, but noted lawmakers were informed of that potentiality and no furloughs would be necessary.
Goulet said in a document sent to the Legislature on Oct. 14, the department stated: “In order to begin reducing the UC Program’s reliance on the Service and Infrastructure Improvement Fund, along with the recent announcement of a 5 percent reduction in federal funding, the department would still require a consolidation of one call center in 2017, this would occur during the second quarter of the calendar year. The intent of this consolidation is to provide the department with operational savings, and would not require any furloughs.”
No additional details regarding the potential consolidation – which by the department’s time frame would occur sometime during April, May or June of next year – were provided.
Wagner, who intends to run for governor and has been critical of Wolf, the man he could potentially challenge, said he has filed a right-to-know request with the department regarding various records related to the closing of the call centers. He indicated he’s hoping to find out if indeed these temporary closures and furloughs are more political smokescreen than fiscal necessity.