Local WorkSource office loses contracts by missing deadline
Because of missing a deadline by two minutes, contracts for four employees at the Goldendale WorkSource office were terminated. With the lost contracts, there are significant changes coming to the WorkSource office in Goldendale
A bid for the state Employment Security Department (ESD) for renewal of the WorkSource contracts was due by 4 p.m. on April 4. Ignacio Marquez, Area Director, delivered the bid electronically at 4:02 p.m ., and hard copies of the bids were delivered at 4:08 p.m. Because of the missed deadline, the bid was rejected, and the contracts terminated at the end of June.
Since then, programs once administered by WorkSource have been taken over by People For People (PFP), based in Yakima. Two of the original WorkSource employees have been hired by PFP to remain in the Goldendale office.
At least one person claims the loss of the state jobs could mean the closing of the Goldendale office, and there is unconfirmed speculation that the deadline was missed on purpose.
Sheryl Hutchison, Communications Director for ESD, denies the deadline was missed deliberately. “It was an error on [Marquez’] part,” she says. “He feels bad about it.” Hutchison fielded questions about the contracts when phone messages to Marquez went unanswered, and Hutchison said press inquiries are redirected to her.
“Most often bid deadlines are 5 o’clock,” she says. “It was missed, by about two minutes.”
Asked how the deadline could have been missed, Hutchison responded, “I haven’t talked with him in great detail about it. My hunch is, because I’ve done contracts myself, he thought the deadline was 5 p.m. and he found out that day it was sooner than he expected. I think that’s part of what was driving this. The fact is, he shouldn’t have been cutting it that close. I didn’t get into the reasons with him. I know we’ve all been incredibly busy; we’ve been through some big layoffs this year. Everybody’s got way more going on than they should. I don’t know exactly what went on, but I’m guessing just stresses of a lot of things contributed to this.
“If the deadline had been 5, clearly he would have made it. And our preference would have been that he didn’t cut it that close. We’ve had that contract for a lot of years, and we shouldn’t take it for granted.”
Hutchison says there should be little loss of continuity at the Goldendale office, now in the hands of PFP. “Two of the staff have been rehired by the new contractor,” she says, “and two of them chose not to. One of the vacancies was filled by someone who’d been laid off since last winter. The people who use WorkSource can be satisfied that we still have skilled employees in there who have some familiarity with the system. We should be able to have services go ahead fairly seamlessly.”
Barry Murray was one of those laid off, but he has been hired in Goldendale by PFP to continue at the office. He will be the only counselor in Goldendale running the adult program, the youth program, the community jobs, and the dislocated workers program.
One person close to the situation and who chose to speak on condition of anonymity still maintains the deadline was missed deliberately. The presumed reason is that losing the contracts opens the way for the state to close the Goldendale office, since having fewer state workers offers a rationale for reducing state offices. Without the contracts, the source believes, nothing stands in the way of making more severe changes. The source has been active in protesting the matter to relevant state governmental agencies and even to the governor.
The anonymous source also voices concern for the fate of the Goldendale office. “Our Goldendale office is the busiest office during most of the year,” the source says. “Always at the heart of any attempts to close offices is the issue that it appears that rural areas don’t need these offices. Right now, what concerns me is that the County Commissioners probably don’t even know what is being talked about in regards to the employment office. They probably don’t know that it is only open three days a week. Yet the County Commissioners have a lot of power to keep services in their communities. This is the real issue.”
A year ago, there were 21 employees, not all full time. Now, with the latest contract layoffs at the end of June, there are seven full time employees. People for People employees won’t count in that number since they are not state workers.
The current lease for the Golednale office expires in September, and there is speculation that the state would close the current offices in Goldendale and Stevenson. “If the building does close,” says the source. “they are going to have to find a place to work out of, and I think they have already talked to DSHS because they think all they would need is probably a desk, a cubicle, a place to work. But that would dramatically change the way the office has worked and will cause a lot of problems for local people who use the current office and expect access to computers.”
Hutchison says the lost contracts have nothing to do with what happens next to the Goldendale office. “There’s nothing about this contract and this decision that would drive that,” she says. “We are under big pressure from the feds; most of that funding comes from the feds. Both our agency and the local WorkForce Development Council are undergoing very severe budget cuts. All offices, particularly satellite offices, will be under scrutiny in the coming year. But that has nothing to do with this contract situation. It’s a bigger overall budget situation.
“For instance, in the current two-year budget,” Hutchison continues, “our office’s budget was cut 16 percent. And we’re looking probably at an equal amount going into next year. There is no more or less pressure on Goldendale than on any of the other satellite offices in the state. All of that will be looked at closely; we just have to. We’ve reduced employees by about 500 in the past two years, and we’ll probably reduce them by about another 200 to 300 in the next years. We were at a peak of about 2,700; now we’ve gone down to about 2,100. And we’ll be cutting some more.”
—With reports from JoAnne Grogan