Another round of layoffs is in the works for the state Employment Security Department.
The agency, which added staff to handle unemployment insurance claims during the worst of the Great Recession and has been cutting ever since, now must eliminate another 300 to 400 jobs, agency spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said Monday.
The agency has been holding open positions vacant, so the latest round of job cuts will result in the layoff of only 260 people, Hutchison said.
The cuts coincide with automatic budget cuts under federal “sequestration,” but Hutchison said they are not related.
Instead, they are the result of ongoing efforts to reduce ESD budgets by 16 percent in the current biennium and 16 percent again in the next one – with some of the reductions spurred by the agency running out of one-time federal allocations that were used to pay for administrative costs and a pending computer-system upgrade.
Gov. Jay Inslee appointed commissioner Dale Peinecke in January to take over the agency. Soon after, Peinecke called for a broader look at the level of agency staffing that would be sustainable for a longer period.
Employment Security officials are in the midst of deciding which functions and positions will be affected by the cuts. The agency expects to send out the first round of layoff notices in the next two or three weeks. Layoffs will take effect in May.
The agency has had three rounds of cuts in the past year and a half – shrinking worker headcounts from about 2,700 to about 2,000 today. Once the next round is completed, Hutchison estimated the agency will employ about 1,600 to 1,700 workers.
“We’re going to actually end up smaller than we were before the recession,” she added.
Under work rules that govern most agencies, there is a “bumping” that results in workers with less tenure getting knocked out of jobs by those with more seniority whose positions are cut. That means once jobs are identified for cuts, it could take a while to determine who actually loses a job.
“There’s a lot of stress,” Hutchison said. “People are certainly looking for other jobs where they can.”www.theolympian.com/politicsblog