Union says cuts to Social Service Dept. will impact services to needy

Last Thursday members of the LAW Local 601 Paraprofessionals attended a meeting of the County Social Services Committee to voice their concerns with the upcoming cuts to staffing levels in the Social Services Department that they say will undermine the services they provide to the neediest people in Lincoln County that they serve.

The members of the union also questioned how it was decided to cut one-and-a-half positions in the department when a year-long time study done of the workers showed that the department was “budget neutral.”

Under a proposed organization chart presented to the workers on July 22, they claim with no explanation from Social Services Director Terry Schmidt, at least one current clerical worker in the department will lose their job. Exactly who will be cut won’t be known until the process of bumping is determined by the union.

It is that uncertainty, and lack of clarification from the committee, Schmidt or Interim Administrative Coordinator Tim Meehean that brought over 15 members of the union to the meeting.

In addition, one accounting position was upgraded so that the re- quirements include a four-year degree in accounting, which the current person in the position does not have. The workers at the meeting said this was done so that a worker from Lincoln Industries could be transferred into Social Services when Family Care takes over in April of 2011. Kathryn Loka said that this new person will need up to a year to be trained on how the Social Services Department works, something the current person in the position already knows, she just lacks the degree requirement the new job description carries for a lower salary.

Loka and the rest of the workers repeatedly stressed that the people the department serves will be affected most by the cuts.

“The citizens of Lincoln County come to us for support,” Loka said. “Pretty soon there won’t be anyone here to help them.”

They also stressed that the Social Services Department has lost eight-and-a-half positions in the last 10 years, forcing the workers who remain to take on even heavier workloads. They repeatedly questioned how the department could even man the front desk after the proposed cuts take effect.

In a letter to the committee, LAW Local 601 member Bobbi Lee said that the members felt they had been “mislead” by Schmidt in the process of creating the new organizational chart.

“We had concerns regarding this whole process several months ago due to the fact that Mr. Schmidt is hardly ever in the building and we felt that he would not be able to accurately reflect what is done here,” Lee said in her letter. “We were led to believe that Mr. Schmidt was proposing that no jobs be eliminated. Now that the chart has been released we are told that Mr. Schmidt was apparently in agreement to eliminate positions, even though he had been provided data showing we could remain budget neutral while maintaining our current staff levels.”

Lee went on to say in her letter that once the organizational chart was released, Schmidt repeatedly ignored questions the union had about it.

“No meeting was scheduled with the employees in this building. The chart was released and left for individuals to speculate and wonder about their future with no guidance from anyone. We requested a meeting with Mr. Schmidt and believed that he would follow through with our request. As of today, August 17, 2010, Mr. Schmidt has not met with us and we are told that he will not be,” her letter stated.

Schmidt apologized for his actions, saying changes in the Developmental Disabilities Department, which he also oversees, due to Family Care had taken up a lot of his time. He added that that department currently has four-and-a-half positions that are unfilled due to budget constraints.

Schmidt has announced his impending retirement from both positions although his last day has not been determined yet.

Meehean apologized to the workers for the undue stress the process has caused them.

“We had hoped that this chart would have been finished and explained to those affected before the agencies hiring for Family Care started taking applications,” he said. “The process took longer than we had anticipated.”

He added that the organization chart was designed to best utilize the positions and did not target specific people. He said the new organization chart was the result of a lot of work on the part of himself, Schmidt and the committee. He added that while the organizational chart is set in stone, the Social Services Committee could modify it if it desires.

“But I wouldn’t recommend that,” he added.

Schmidt said that he would not be a responsible steward of taxpayer money if he kept people in positions that were not needed.

Clerical worker Mary Bansen disagreed, saying her staff has taken on a lot of the workload from the case workers to allow them to handle more cases. She said requests for energy assistance have skyrocketed in recent years due to the poor economy and the requests for help will start again in a little over a month.

“Support staff is the backbone of the department,” Bansen said.

Schmidt replied that if the workload justifies hiring back someone, the committee would do so, just as it has added staff to the child support unit to keep up with the increased demands there.

The message that the union members repeatedly stressed to the committee is they feel there was a total lack of communication with them about the new organizational chart and that the lack of communication was ongoing.

In the end, Schmidt assured the committee and the union members that he would meet with them sometime this week to address their concerns.

Committee Chairman Michael Loka and the rest of the committee said this was the first they had heard of many of the concerns the union was raising.

“I hate to see where you have to come to a committee meeting to get any dialogue going,” he said.

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