Labor workers visit 'Grinch' at Sen. Scott Wagner's office

Margarita Cambest

More than 500 state employees are losing their jobs in what some are calling a political battle between state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

On Thursday, about 20 of the workers braved the cold to deliver Christmas cards from those labor department employees to the York City office of Wagner, calling the senator "The Grinch."

SEIU Local 668 President Tom Herman, center, speaks outside state Sen. Scott Wagner's office while, from left, AFSCME Council 13 Director Mickey Sgro, Dave Carey (dressed as the Grinch), Southeastern Pennsylvania Public Employees Council 88 Director Tom Tosti and labor department employee Tim Nebgen, of Woodward Township in Clearfield County, look on as they deliver Christmas cards, from soon-to-be furloughed Labor & Industry employees, to Wagner's office in York City, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

There are 541 members from the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who have been or will soon be furloughed because the state Senate canceled a vote on emergency funding for the Department of Labor and Industry before its session ended. Wagner told The York Dispatch at the time that he led the charge against holding a vote in a Republican caucus meeting preceding the last scheduled session day.

Without the $57.5 million from the proposed bill, the department said, it will be forced to furlough hundreds of employees and close service centers in Lancaster, Altoona and Allentown, effective Monday.

“I’d like to have faith that the Senate is going to see it’s not just important for me but for the livelihood of Pennsylvanians,” Tim Nebgen, of Clearfield County, said Thursday.

Nebgen said he’d worked at the call center just more than a year before getting notice his job would be gone a week before Christmas.

Wagner has said the criticism should not be directed at him but at Wolf, "a failed governor that is seeking to salvage his political career and is using the livelihood of state employees as pawns to do so."

Wagner said he believes Wolf could find the money in the budget to keep the employees and centers and that these actions are happening because Democrats are upset Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election and Republicans gained a supermajority in the state Senate.

A spokesman from Wolf's office has disputed that claim, saying the money just isn't there.

Wagner  previously told The York Dispatch that the labor department was supposed to use funding approved in 2013 to update outdated computer systems and it didn’t get the job done.

A news release from the department stated it used those funds to reduce call wait times by more than an hour in the past two years and, in 2016, the computer system met goals set by the federal Department of Labor that it had failed previously.

600 layoffs expected after Senate dismisses without funding jobless centers

“They shouldn’t be shutting us down,” said eight-year-employee Helen McDowell. “This is not our fault. They’re saying this is misused money. We’re not the people who misused money.”

McDowell works at the Altoona call center.

Just after 11 a.m., the door to the senator’s York City office was locked and repeated knocks went unanswered. A union representative phoned the Harrisburg office and requested to see the senator.

“Check the hours on the door,” director of AFSCME Council 83 Mickey Sgro told the group. “If our employees didn’t come during those hours, they (would) get terminated.”

AFSCME Council 13 Director Mickey Sgro, left, emphatically speaks as members of the SEIU Local 668 and AFSCME Council 13 deliver Christmas cards, from soon-to-be furloughed Labor & Industry employees, to Senator Scott Wagner's office in York City, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A representative at the York office did answer the phone for the Dispatch just after noon, citing a medical emergency of a staff member that delayed opening that morning. Wagner’s chief of staff, Jason High, said the  senator was in Altoona talking to union workers who would be laid off. He confirmed someone in the York office did receive the cards when they arrived.

“Scott is more than willing to sit down with people," High said. "We’re not going to engage on the sidewalk, so to speak, but if they want to reach out for a meeting, we’re more than happy to meet with them.”

Clad in a furry, green Grinch mask, Dave Carey, of Elizabethtown, unloaded dozens of cards from Labor and Industry employees.

“These cards are the sentiments of folks who are losing their jobs on Dec. 19 because of Sen. Wagner,” said SEIU 668 president Tom Herman.

Another rally is planned for  5:45 p.m. Monday  in front of Wagner’s York office at 218 N. George Street.