Politics & Government

New round of layoffs begins in state government

OLYMPIA — Dozens of state government workers have been given layoff notices as Washington agencies begin to implement budget cuts at the start of a new fiscal year.

The heaviest reductions are taking place at the Department of Information Services, which provides technology support to state and local government agencies. More than 30 workers there have received layoff notices while another 30 positions that had been vacant are now being eliminated for good.

Those cuts eliminate more than 10 percent of the agency’s work force.

“It was a big hit,” spokeswoman Joanne Todd said. “It hurts. These are people, and these are people that are doing a good job and working hard.”

As part of the new budget plan, DIS will soon be part of an agency consolidation and will be absorbed into the new Department of Enterprise Services. The Department of General Administration, which is also involved in the consolidation, has notified 13 employees that their positions are at risk for layoffs.

The Department of Social and Health Services is also pursuing new cuts. The agency is currently working through 40 layoffs while another 74 layoffs loom in the near future, spokesman Thomas Shapley said.

DSHS has already seen a steep drop in headcount in recent years, leading a statewide shift. Between July 2008 and June 2010, the number of state employees declined by 2,840, or more than 4 percent.

Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the layoffs are creating a massive workload problem for employees left behind.

“There are many fewer workers doing either the same or greater work,” Devereux said. “Work is either not getting done or people are working strained.”

He warned that those heavy workloads can create dangerous situations in public safety areas. And he also predicted that the working conditions, combined with less salary through unpaid days off, will drive many of the state’s employees away when the economy returns.

The latest round of job losses comes with a new budget that cuts some $4.5 billion in projected spending. Meanwhile, the Employment Security Department faces the prospect of having to lay off hundreds starting at the end of this year or early in 2012. The department, which is supported by federal funds, boosted its personnel to handle cases during the economic downturn and now will be forced to trim back, spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said.

Layoff notices can trigger a complicated process within agencies, with some employees having the right to bump into other positions and force other workers out.