State government employment fell steadily for 18 months, but the state has been hiring again since the end of February. Most of the jobs are seasonal, in natural-resources agencies or to give job-search assistance to the unemployed.
New state data show general-government agencies added a net 481 people to the state payroll in March, April and May. Washington agencies had 63,471 people on the payroll as of May 31, up from the Feb. 28 level of 62,990. Those included full- and part-time jobs.
The increases, which were small each month, are revealed in the employee head count that the state Department of Personnel released late last week. The hires mark a small reversal of a trend of declining agency head counts since June 2008, when agencies had 66,887 people on the payroll.
“What we can tell from our data is that the increase from February to now is mostly due to seasonal work – not entirely, but mostly,” Personnel spokeswoman Jennifer Reynolds said Tuesday.
Among the biggest increases in staffing were 264 people added to State Parks, 121 at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, 95 at the Department of Natural Resources, 76 at Employment Security, 40 at the Department of Licensing, 40 at the Department of Agriculture, 29 at the Department of Health and 13 at Veterans Affairs.
The trend of added hires isn’t expected to last much past the summer. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Office of Financial Management expects overall state employment to decrease over the rest of the two-year budget cycle that ends June 30, 2011.
OFM spokesman Glenn Kuper has predicted up to 2,000 more jobs could be cut in higher education and general government over that span, meeting requirements of the budget the Legislature passed in April.
“Overall, things are going in the right direction, and we expect to see more reductions as the biennium goes on,” Kuper said Tuesday.
The state’s largest agency, the Department of Social and Health Services, is shrinking, paring its head count to 18,225 people in May from 20,050 in July 2008. There have been 22 consecutive months of reductions at the agency.
The state has had a hiring freeze imposed by the Legislature since mid-March. But many jobs are exempt from the freeze – including seasonal workers in natural resources agencies and people involved in the direct custody or care of prison inmates, incarcerated youths, the developmentally disabled, state hospitals, protective services for children and the elderly, enforcement or investigative officers with the State Patrol. Also exempt are those with the Military Department, workers in health labs and emergency-response programs, park rangers, and employees in unemployment programs, the state Lottery and liquor-business enterprises.
At State Parks, the seasonal hires mostly were parks aides. The agency typically hires at the beginning of the recreation season and usually hires more personnel than it has so far, agency spokeswoman Virginia Painter said.
At the Department of Natural Resources, spokesman Aaron Toso said most recent hires were for temporary or seasonal jobs, including for firefighters and Washington Conservation Corps crews that repair trails and work in environmental restoration. Hiring of firefighters began in March to allow training, and agency staff members fought fires in Northeast Washington in April.
The hires come after DNR eliminated 157 permanent jobs in three rounds of layoffs in 2009. Of those, 114 were actual layoffs; others were by retirements or attrition.
Employment Security received federal stimulus dollars, and it is expanding WorkSource centers and ramping up efforts to help job seekers find work.
“We’re calling it gearing up to put Washington back to work,” Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said, noting that the agency has had lines at some WorkSource sites.
It now plans a “grand reopening” of its Everett WorkSource office Thursday with doubled capacity, doubled staffing and doubled computer access.
“We expect that demand is going to continue to remain high. We have a significant number of people in this state who gave up looking for work,” Hutchison said.
At the Department of Health, federal money was used to add staff to promote H1N1 flu vaccination use. The agency also received federal stimulus funds to boost rates of immunization and for a Women Infants and Children aid program.
Other staff members were hired after the Legislature added athletic trainers and agency-affiliated counselors to its list of regulated health professions, spokesman Tim Church said.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog