Guilty conscience or benevolent gesture? You decide the motive of Senator Scott Wagner
Senator Scott Wagner, of R-York County, on Monday asked a Republican colleague in the Senate to hand out cards containing $ 150 to the 117 employees on leave of the Department of Labor and Industry in Altoona, whose future employment remains uncertain.
As teary-eyed employees left the unemployment benefit service center in Altoona on Monday when their holidays took effect, they found a $ 150 surprise waiting for them outside, courtesy of Senator Scott Wagner .
The York County Republican millionaire enlisted Senator John Eichelberger, of R-Blair County, to distribute cards containing the money to each of the 117 workers at this center who are among the 521 employees of the Department of Labor and the ‘Industry caught in the stalemate. financing of state unemployment benefit services.
The card read: “Please accept the contents of (the envelope) as a small gesture of appreciation for your service. I am so sorry that layoffs are happening, especially at this time of year. I will continue to fight. to get to the bottom of this disaster. Please enjoy the holidays and stay warm! “
Eichelberger said a few of the employees on leave told him to donate the money to charity or give it to someone who needed it more than he did. But the vast majority gladly accepted envelopes containing money that Wagner said came from his personal bank account.
“People thanked me and thanked me very sincerely and thanked Scott and thanked me for being there and wished me a merry Christmas even though it was a difficult time for them personally,” Eichelberger said. . He admitted to receiving more than a few hugs from the displaced workers.
Wagner decided last week after visiting the Altoona center that he was going to do something for these employees.
“I’m not a bad guy,” Wagner said. “I think this is all a tragedy of the way it is going and honestly the union that represents these people should have stood at the door handing out money.”
Wagner is unlikely to extend the same gesture to employees on leave who worked in the Lancaster and Allentown centers or in Harrisburg for logistical reasons, his chief of staff Jason High said. They have no way of identifying who they are without the ministry providing them with a list, he said.
Wagner considers the administration’s decision to fire the workers six days before Christmas to be heartless.
“I have employed a lot of people over the past 40 years and I would never treat people the way they are treated,” he said. “It’s $ 150. For these people, that might buy a week’s worth of groceries. It’s a gesture. It’s not trying to score political points.”
But that’s exactly how others see it.
They point out that Wagner bragged about digging his heels and keeping the unemployment compensation funding bill from being voted on in the Senate last month.
Melanie Hall of Hampden Twp., One of the employees on leave who worked at the central office of the Office of Unemployment Compensation as a job security specialist, said she had not received any of the l money from Wagner but thought it was great for the Altoona employees who made it.
“I think there’s little to no chance that this service center will open up or be recalled, so it’s appropriate to send it to them anyway,” she said. “It is my personal belief that [Wagner] is fully responsible for all those people who have lost their jobs, including myself. “
Eichelberger said none of the people he spoke to outside of central Altoona expressed to him this feeling that Wagner had cost them their jobs.
“Quite the contrary,” he said. “I can tell you that the comments I have heard from employees are that they have very little confidence in their SEIU leadership, very little.”
Wagner insists Gov. Tom Wolf has discretionary money he could have used to avoid layoffs. The Wolf administration maintains that the only way these Unemployment Compensation Office jobs could have been saved is the Senate approval of a House-passed bill that would have provided $ 57.5 million. dollars to finance this operation.
Without the money, the administration said it was forced to lay off about half of the workers who administer unemployment benefit services, which helps lengthen wait times for unemployed workers who call the workers. four remaining unemployment benefit call centers to seek help with their claims.
Labor and Industry spokeswoman Sara Goulet said wait time for callers was on average just under 10 minutes before layoffs, but now is on average d ‘about two hours.
“Senator Wagner is the reason these employees are out of work and the reason workers across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will have to wait longer to get their unemployment benefits, which will make it harder to save. food on the table, ”said Wolf spokesperson Jeff Sheridan. “He is the epitome of obstructionism in Harrisburg.”
Tom Herman, president of Local 668 of the Service Employees International Union, called Wagner’s gesture “a superficial move to ease his guilt for putting 500, nearly 600 people out of work the week before Christmas. Our employees need it. jobs, not donations “.
David Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, which represents office workers on leave, said he was baffled by Wagner’s gesture.
“The employees are a little embarrassed about this,” he said. “They don’t know what it is and in the note to employees he apologizes for the disaster but at the same time he is the one who caused the disaster.”
Even the president of the state Democratic Party, Marcel Groen, had something to say about it.
“In Harrisburg, it was Scott Wagner who threw Pennsylvania workers under the bus, just when they needed him most. When Governor Wolf and Republicans and Democrats in the House got together to find a solution to keeping call centers open, Scott Wagner made sure that didn’t happen, and $ 150 in cash can’t cover this, ”Groen said in a statement.
Wagner said he received four phone calls from employees who wanted to personally thank him for the gesture.
As for his detractors who see it as an expression of guilt or an attempt to buy votes for his 2018 gubernatorial candidacy, Wagner said: “This is totally ridiculous
“Why haven’t the others stepped in? It’s the right thing to do. I love this game. There is always someone who doesn’t have nice things to say all the time, no matter what. that you do. You must have thick skin. “