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GET THE STATE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS ON-LINE Tough, investigative reporting; the wit and good sense of Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower; Political Intelligence; insightful cultural analysis; and much more. Check out Molly Ivins’ special subscription offer, too! Subscribe on-line or call The Texas Observer at 512-477-0746 b THE TEXAS server n Lubbock, Choices employees and their new supervisors are / united at least in one conclusion: the Choices program is not working nearly as well now as it was before it was moved from the T.W.C. to the S.P.C.A.A. Employees estimate that they are handling only a little more than half the caseload they had managed last year, and doing very little community outreach. The employees say they are working just as hard, but they are fewer in number and they repeatedly have had to train new people in the Lubbock Workforce Center and outlying communities. “Back in April of this year,” said Angela Flores, “we started seeing a decline in our staff. We had nineteen people; by the time that the whole program moved over to the new building, we were down already by six or seven people. By July first, we were down by nine people…. Our numbers continued to fall, but by August they brought in five or six new people. They have to be trained [because] it’s such a technical program. They sat idle until about September. By that time we lost some of those people now they’re bringing in new people.” The employees say their jobs have also been made more difficult by hostility and even obstruction from some of their co-workers and the Levelland office, which considers them “spoiled” by their previous employment. “They like to say to us,” says Margret Stanley, “‘Remember, you’re not state employees anymore.’ McCullogh and Powell acknowledge that the program’s productivity has declined, but they attribute it frankly to an “employee problem.” “They’re just not working as hard,” said McCullogh. “That’s the word on the street.” Powell was less blunt, but said that while he could understand a temporary decline in morale over the transition, “The worst possible thing is to get depressed and not do the job.” Virtually all of the employees are looking for other jobs, ideally within state social services, although thus far, they say, the local state agencies have not honored their priority hiring commitment to RIFFed state employees. “I take pride in everything I do. I haven’t slacked off. None of us have,” said Tony Hurtado, a tenyear state employee, who said he lost $500 a month and nearly 375 hours in sick leave when he was forced to change jobs. “It’s just that we want to be compensated for what we do.” Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen, who has been informally representing the Choices employees in discussions with the agencies and the state, says that he will pursue the question of comparable wages, while protecting them against retaliation. He also says the workers appear to have possible due process claims, as well as claims of age discrimination, because the privatization process seems to have been designed, in effect, to “get rid of people with seniority.” “That may not have been the explicit intention,” he said, “but it sure seems to have worked out that way.” He blames the state for a poorly planned initiative that has been rushed to conclusion, particularly in Lubbock. “The T.W.C. has really let these people down,” Glasheen said. “They took almost no steps to pro tect them, and then failed to implement the small steps they did take…. When you look at all the circumstances, it seems like a disguised attempt just to destroy the program.” With the conflict now public, and their employers suggesting openly that they are not doing the jobs they were hired to do, the employees are fearing the worst in the short term. “Our worry is that we’ll be accused of sabotaging the program,” said Jerry Serna, “and we don’t want this program to be sabotaged. We care about our clients, and our jobs. I have to live with myself when I go home at night.” Serna expects to find a personal solution to his employment problems, but he speaks with considerable anger of his years of dedication to the state of Texas. “The state is not blameless in this. They should have overseen this program. They should have seen that longtime, loyal state workers were taken care of, and they didn’t.” Angela Flores is still waiting for a response to her letter to Governor Bush, though she may have received it unawares two years ago, following the 1997 legislative session, when House Bill 2915 reached Bush’s desk. Passed by both Houses, the bill would have required that private subcontractors pay wages and benefits comparable to those provided state employees. Calling the bill an “intrusion” in the private sector market and a restriction on the ability of workforce boards to seek “competitive bids,” the Governor vetoed it. THE WORKERS APPEAR TO HAVE POSSIBLE DUE PROCESS CLAIMS, AS WELL AS CLAIMS OF AGE DISCRIMINATION, BECAUSE THE PRIVATIZATION PROCESS SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN DESIGNED, IN EFFECT, TO “GET RID OF PEOPLE WITH SENIORITY.” 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 4, 1998