Locals, state employees, rally against layoffs, Wagner

Christopher Dornblaser
  • About two dozen workers protested in front of Sen. Scott Wagner's office Wednesday evening.
  • They were unhappy about the lack of a vote on House Bill 2375. About 600 layoffs are expected.
  • Wagner did not return a phone message requesting comment.

Three words could be heard by those driving on North George Street in York City on Wednesday evening.

"Save our jobs!"

It was the sound of about two dozen state employees who braved the rain as they stood outside the office of state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township. They were rallying in reaction to the death of House Bill 2375, which would have authorized $57.5 million in funding for the state Department of Labor and Industry’s unemployment call centers in 2017.

Wagner took credit for denying a vote on the bill in the Senate, and as a result, 600 layoffs are expected at unemployment call centers statewide.

Members of Service Employees International Union, Local 668, set up shop in front of Wagner's office, 218 N. George St., holding up signs and chanting. They were there to ask the senator why he wanted to stop the bill as well as try to convince senators to put the bill up for a vote.

600 layoffs expected after Senate dismisses without funding jobless centers

Rally:  Stephen Catanese, business agent for the union, said a lot of union members were expecting the bill to pass, and when it wasn't voted on, they had questions.

"If they want to take credit for this, a lot of our workers want to ask, why?" Catanese said.

Bill Wilson, who worked at the Harrisburg overflow call center  and is chapter chair for the union, said his department lost a large portion of its  workers. He said that will affect the remaining employees, who will now take in all the calls, and that, in turn, will affect wait time on calls.

"All (the Senate) had to do was vote; that's the thing we don't understand," he said. "It's all right to say you're going to put your foot down, but why not, since it's a democracy, let everybody vote on it, so we can get everybody's answer, not just one person's."

Wagner did not return a phone message requesting comment Wednesday evening, and he did not make an appearance during the rally. In November, he wrote in a letter to The York Dispatch saying that the Department of Labor and Industry was given $240 million over the past four years, but it failed to deliver a complete infrastructure.

In the letter, Wagner said he refused to approve more money when no one at the department was held accountable.

SEIU 668 member Daniel John, of Harrisburg holds up his sign in protest to Senator Scott Wagner's decision not to vote on House Bill 2375, as traffic goes by on N. George St. Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in York City. Amanda J. Cain photo

Wilson said he was knocked down three pay grades. He has worked at the call center for 15 years.

"It's just not human to do this to other human beings," he said.

He said what was happening was not the way to say goodbye to the people he worked with and knew during his time at the call center.

"It's just hard," he said.

The employees' chants were met with many honks of solidarity from passing cars.

York Progressive: On the next block, a group of Yorkers also was protesting Wagner for stopping a vote on the bill. Carla Christopher, co-president of York Progressives, helped organize that rally. It was initially in front of LSC Design Inc, at 320 N. George St., where she said Wagner was holding a fundraiser. 

The activists were asked to leave the premises, she said, and they instead rallied at the nearest corner. Christopher said they were getting nasty looks.

"We've had people roll their eyes at us," she said.

She said the reactions were making the protesters feel "less than human."

She emphasized that their stance wasn't a political one and that the lack of a vote affects all Pennsylvanians.

That was a stance shared by Ashleigh Sharland, of Spring Garden Township. Sharland, a senior at York College, held a picture of Dr. Seuss' book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," but with Wagner's face on the title character's body.

"Being that it is so close to Christmas ... he is sort of stealing Christmas from about 600 employees," she said.

She said the group was fighting for what they believe is in the best interest of Pennsylvania.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.