Page 30


but difficult both emotionally and mentally.” In order to supplement her income at her new job, Wallace found it necessary to apply for early retirement from the state. “Now my future looks unsafe and scary.” Fred White, sixty-three, also took early retirement. He had worked for the state for ten years \(his last six personnel evaluworking into his seventies. “When all was said and done,” he wrote, “those of us who were hired [by the S.P.C.A.A.] took pay cuts from $408.00 to $850.00 per month and lost our sick leave with the State. I personally had over three months of sick leave that I lost and I was forced to retire from the State with only 10 years of service.” Jerry Serna, forty-five, began working for the state directly out of college, and when he was laid off had twenty-one years of service. His salary at the T.W.C. was approximately $24,000 a year. Now he and all of his colleagues are “atwill,” hourly employees, and his wages, at roughly $8 an hour, are the equivalent of approximately $16,000 a year and passionate about his job, he wrote, but “Now my whole life’s plan was destroyed on 06/30/98 when the state of Texas sold me & my family out to a private contractor. I became very depressed and sought professional counseling and I am not even able to afford a decent medical insurance and have been juggling my bills just to make ends meet on a monthly basis.” Susan Valdez chose not to move with the program to the S.P.C.A.A., because she faced a cut in pay of over $1,000 a month. She applied for unemployment instead, postponed needed surgery money to return to college. She had worked for the state in various capacities since she was a teenager, twenty-three years in all. “I did not plan this either,” she wrote, “but as it turned out I enjoyed and gained much satisfaction in helping others never realizing that the better life that I promised others would be taken away from me and promises made would be broken.” Broken promises, implicit and explicit, are central elements in the stories of the Choices employees, and indeed, distinguish their experience from just another American layoff tale. They say that in the past, they had passed up opportunities for more lucrative private jobs because they believed in what they were doing, and believed as well that the state would return their loyalty, with continued job security. That faith had been reinforced during the last two years, even as it became clear that in the wake of federal and state welfare legislation, some form of privatization was inevitable. The Choices employees say that in the year and a half before their layoffs, they were repeatedly told by their T.W.C. supervisors that privatization would not occur before the fall of 1998, and that because of the ongoing good performance of their group, their jobs, salaries, and benefits were very secure. In April of 1997, moreover, they had been given copies of a T.W.C. policy memorandum from then-director of workforce development, Alan Miller. “Local boards shall ensure that service providers who hire Texas Workforce Commission employees [under privatization] compensate those employees in a manner consistent with compensation given for comparable labor in state agencies or the local labor market.” Michael King In addition to the official policy, all the employees say that during the fall of 1997 and the spring of 1998 their immediate supervisor, Rocky Brown, and the regional program director \(based in ing for other employment. Paul Shawver’s phrase, “Don’t jump ship,” echoes in their memories. It is particularly poignant in the case of Margret Stanley, a nearly ten-year T.W.C. employee who chose to stay with the Choices program when she could have transferred to another state job in April of 1998. Stanley, the primary wage-earner in her family, needed to maintain state employment “I ENJOYED AND GAINED MUCH SATISFACTION IN HELPING OTHERS until September 1 in order to qualify for state retirement and medical NEVER REALIZING THAT THE insurance. She would BETTER LIFE THAT I PROMISED have transferred from Choices, she wrote, “but OTHERS WOULD BE TAKEN AWAY we were all assured by FROM ME AND PROMISES MADE Paul Shawver that the WOULD BE BROKEN.” [Workforce Develop ment] board had told him we would definitely not be privatized until 09-01-98…. I was shocked about a month later to learn that we would be privatized as of 07-01-98. Paul Shawver called a meeting and explained that Don McCullogh, board chairman, had called him to let him know that he ‘changed his mind’ about the privatization effective date. This destroyed my retirement plans. Since I will be 53 years old this fall and have medical problems, it will be very difficult to find another job with the state.” All the workers recount a similar story that when they inquired whether they should be looking for other employment, Paul Shawver and Rocky Brown told them they should “not jump ship,” and that the Workforce Board would not “sell us down the river.” Asked about these apparent reassurances, Don McCullogh, Executive Director of the South Plains Regional Workforce Development Bill Powell, S.P.C.A.A. DECEMBER 4, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9