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More than 500 Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) employees who work at Unemployment Compensation Service Centers will receive layoff notices and work their last day on Dec.19, due to the State Senate’s inaction on House Bill 2375.

“Let them close down,” said Sen. Scott Wagner of York, who proudly led the charge against passing HB 2375, which would have authorized $57.5 million in funding to keep these call centers open and keep the workers employed.

The bill passed in the House by a vote of 175-13, and made it through the Senate's Labor and Industry and Appropriations committees without opposition, though some committee members didn't vote on it. Wagner, who serves on both committees, was one of the members who didn't vote on the bill.

Instead, Wagner, who is reportedly running for governor in 2018, took this opportunity to achieve political gain on the backs of hundreds of workers. Now those people will lose their jobs just before the holidays.

It is no secret that Wagner disdains state employees and their unions. Most of the affected employees are represented by SEIU, and a handful are represented by AFSCME. In an email blast, Wagner painted himself as the hero in the situation, and even blasted state employees’ collective bargaining agreement, saying “Governor Wolf did not have a problem finding money this past August to give almost 30,000 state employees wage increases.”

Not only does Wagner allow state employees to be scapegoats for budgetary issues created by the legislature that he is a part of, but he goes on to use Wolf as a scapegoat for the call centers closing down, saying “Governor Wolf and his Budget Secretary know where to find money to continue to fund the call centers.”

Wagner claims this would have been an “eleventh hour” vote, while in reality, they were aware of the need for funding since April. He also decries the supposed lack of accountability of past L&I funding, even though it is known that funding was used for technological improvements that saw a drastic increase in efficiency for the department.

Scott Wagner and those in the Legislature like him made the choice to close the call centers and layoff hundreds of people. Now that they have, Wagner is blaming his potential 2018 opponent for it. He was sure to remind folks through his email blast that “in 2018, taxpayers of Pennsylvania get to hold Governor Wolf accountable and elect him out of office.”

While Wagner capitalizes on this issue for his political ambitions, hundreds of families are trying to figure out what they are going to do for the holidays as their income source is swept out from under them.

 — David Fillman is executive director of AFSCME Council 13. Responses to this opinion essay may be directed to webadmin@afscme13.org.

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