WE WON'T GO — More than 100 PEF Region 10 members join union leaders and lawmakers at an April press conference in Manhattan to oppose the closure of the Labor Department's telephone claims center. — Photo by Richard Dillard
Halting claim center closure top priority
Members unite to stop DOL transfers
By DEBORAH A. MILES
Donning bright yellow scarves and traditional blue PEF hats, nearly 150 members gathered for a press conference on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan to publicly air their objections to the closure of the state Department of Labor’s telephone claims center.
Members chanted enthusiastically, “We won’t go,” on a sunny but brisk April day. Union leaders and NY City Council Members Robert Jackson and Latisha James told reporters why.
The claims center is the only one of its kind in the city and serves a diverse population. Moving the employees to upstate New York would not only disrupt their lives, but would leave thousands of people to the mercy of upstate centers where representatives have to get a translator through a “language line,” which costs more than $1 per minute of taxpayers’ money.
Helen Esposito, a labor service representative in PEF Division 245, said the NYC center employs numerous multilingual people who can quickly and effectively answer questions in more than a half dozen languages including Slavic, Asian, Hispanic and Caribbean dialects.
“It’s a unique situation working in the city,” Esposito said. “Our staff has years of experience and we are extremely knowledgeable. We have the proper language skills to address the questions and concerns of the claimants.”
Dept. Of Labor:
Stop the move. Don't hang up on NYC.
Not a viable option
Many of the workers have school-age children, aging parents and in-laws who are paramount in their lives.
“Moving upstate would mean I would have to uproot my family, sell my home, and pull my 15-year old son off an athletic league that he’s been in since age 9,” Esposito said. “It would be a severe impact. We’re just statistics to these people, it’s just not fair.”
“It’s not a viable option for me to move upstate,” said Vanessa Castillo, a married mother of two who has worked for the department for 12 years.
Castillo said the Labor Department is pointing the finger at the federal government for the closure, claiming a loss of federal funds won’t cover the office rent in the pricey West Village. However, PEF leaders say lower cost office space is available in other parts of NYC.
It's a bad move in any language. Stop the DOL move.
Time on PEF’s side
The Labor Department laid-off hourly employees in April and has set a target date of September 9 to start the relocation. The transfer would affect more than 100 PEF members.
“We must act quickly to address this issue,” said PEF President Roger Benson.
“If there is any good news it is the first wave of forced transfers is not scheduled until early September 2005, with the majority of forced transfers occurring in late 2006,” Benson said. “This timeframe gives us the opportunity to work against this ill-advised and outrageous proposal.”
Benson said he would explore legal recourse regarding a municipal labor consent order to assure Hispanic unemployment services and contact the state commissioner of labor to object to the closure.
A letter writing campaign is also in the works, as well as newspaper ads for the Albany and NYC markets.
Meetings in PEF Region 10 are also being planned to develop local strategies and involve the membership.
“PEF has gained valuable experience in preventing closures and forced transfers during the last eight years,” Benson said. “This will be a difficult fight because of the loss of federal funding, but PEF will make preventing this closure and forced transfers a top priority.”
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