Originally published April 20, 2012 – WFSU News Letter
A labor union and several lawmakers are working together to delay a budgetary move by the Department of Children and Families. As Sascha Cordner reports, the agency is trying to privatize custodial and maintenance services at a couple of hospitals that could cost hundreds of state employees their jobs.
Governor Rick Scott recently signed a budget that allows the Department of Children and Families to outsource the housekeeping and maintenance services at two North Florida hospitals.
By doing so, the department is expected to save $1.7 million . However, it also means the hospitals will lay off 260 employees: 226 workers at Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee and 34 at Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny.
“Now you’re taking about one of the poorest counties, and I’m just really concerned that these people are not getting a fair shake.”
Jeanette Wynn is the President of Florida’s Chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. She says Florida State Hospital is the biggest employer in Chattahoochee, which already suffered from 300 layoffs last year. Wynn says these are Florida residents who’ve made their home in Gadsden County, and it’s just not fair:
“We’re laying off some of the lowest paid people in the state of Florida, and we don’t have any compassion for some of them who’ve worked 30 years? Who’ve been excellent employees, looking at some of their evaluations? Some of them beyond 50 years old, beyond middle age, and now you’re telling them to go back out into the workforce and find a job?”
Wynn’s union has been trying to come up with ways to save the employees’ jobs. Two meetings were recently scheduled between DCF and AFSCME. But the department cancelled after the union sent a letter to the department asking for an analysis proving privatization was the only way to save money. The union also reminded the department that it could not yet sign a contract with Aramark. That’s the vendor slated to take over the hospital’s custodial services. The date of that deal depends on a bill the Governor has yet to approve.
Republican Representative Marti Coley of Marianna and Democratic Senator Bill Montford of Tallahassee have also been working towards slowing the privatization process. Montford says he recently met with DCF’s Deputy Secretary and expressed his concerns about how the state has already started to draw up a contract with the private vendor Aramark without the department exhausting all its options.
“Why would we be moving forward in the privatization process, in other words, the company meeting with the employees, telling them how they can apply for a job with them, when the pink slips would go out, and when their contract will be up with the state. Why would we do that when we don’t even know that we can realize the savings? And to make that decision, you need to have the good, sound, complete data.”
But, DCF spokesman Joe Follick says lawmakers and the unions need to realize that this is not a snap decision. He says this transition has been a year in the making, and even if they wait a couple more months, opponents are just delaying the inevitable.
“Just like any family, when you have decisions to make, if you can do something with the same outcome for a lower cost, you’re going to make that decision. This is not a sudden decision. We have analyzed it. We’re not doing it on a whim. This is a business decision that is going to let us maintain our attention on frontline services, and the maintenance and the upkeep that is currently being performed by state employees will be performed by other employees by another company.”
At the same time, Follick says DCF cares about the employees affected by the decision , and his department is doing the best it can to help them.
“We have guaranteed that when we sign a contract with an outsource provider on this that our current employees will get first dibs for whatever jobs become available as a result. We also assist with any kind of career placement work that we can do, other jobs with state agencies, other jobs within the department as they become available.”
Governor signed legislation into law (HB 5303) that could delay the privatization until July 1st.
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