The latest issues of The Chief-Leader featured SSEU Local 371 officers taking the City to task for not adequately staffing jobs centers, a long-standing complaint from Union members. Read it below:
Overcrowded, With OT Soaring Local 371: Job Centers Deluged, Staff Needed
By DAVID SIMS
The city’s job centers, which have become increasingly overcrowded since the economic downturn, will not be able to function in the long term without an increase in staffing, according to District Council 37 Local 371.
The union said it is working on finding solutions with the Human Resources Administration in the short term, and HRA has agreed to change some of its mandated overtime procedures for workers after a meeting with the union, which represents social-service employees.
Local 371 President Anthony Wells said his members were concerned about the lines out the door at centers and client tensions that sometimes erupted because of long waits.
‘More Than System Can Handle’
“Obviously, the extent of the problem is that more people are seeking services than the system is prepared to handle. They don’t have enough workers, they don’t have enough space, they don’t have enough security,” Mr. Wells said in a phone interview.
“We’ve been talking to the agency about this for the last couple of years,” he continued. “We just met with them to bring home the fact that there have to be some short-term solutions, because in the long run the real solution is they need more workers.”
Some of the proposals the union outlined included a relaxation in overtime provisions, a redistribution of some central-office staff to the front lines, and controls on how many people are called into the centers every day.
“They can’t control walk-ins, but they can control call-ins,” Mr. Wells said. “You can go to many offices around the city, and there’s lines out the door. Not just for food stamps, but other services too...people are staying late and working overtime every day.”
The union’s vice president for negotiations and research, Rose Lovaglio-Miller, said that talks with HRA had been fruitful, although there was much more the agency was still considering.
Keeping Too Many Late
“All of the staff that were mandated to stay [and work overtime] would have to wait until the last client left the building,” she said in a phone interview. “[HRA] was crying about its budget, but then you’d have 20 staff waiting for one client to be served.”
HRA agreed and put out a memo saying only the Director or Deputy Director has to stay in a job center until the last client has been served, Ms. Lovaglio-Miller said. The practice of mandating that employees work overtime will also be adjusted.
Previously, workers would have to stay in the office even if they had urgent circumstances like a medical appointment. “Even if someone else said, ‘I’ll stay for them, so they can go get their kids,’ the Director would say no,” she said.
“Now, they’ll do it on a case-by-case basis,” she continued. “And they have to give staff a 30-minute notice in writing prior to their leave time” if they’re asking them to work overtime, she continued.
‘Need More Staff to Curb OT’
Ms. Lovaglio-Miller said that she was pleased HRA was working with the union, but that the issue of overcrowding would persist. “The real issue is the overcrowding, and the only thing that can solve that is them getting additional staff, and they don’t have hiring authority,” she said.
“But at least people aren’t being brow-beaten. They’re bringing some respect back to the locations...they heard us, and that’s what was important,” she added.
Mayor Bloomberg recently acknowledged the issue in a Wall Street Journal article, saying, “We’re trying to catch up and we will,” when asked about overcrowding at job centers. “Keep in mind, like everything else in this city, we’re going to have to find ways to do more with less...some services are just going to have to be slower and just that’s the way it is. But we are taking it very seriously and trying to do it as fast as we can.”
“HRA works hard each day to ensure professional and courteous customer service for the nearly three million clients we serve each year,” said an HRA spokesperson in a statement. “When our Job Centers see a higher-than-usual volume of people, our employees rise to the occasion and continue to show their commitment to serve our clients with respect, timeliness and quality.”