Tennessee labor officials are shutting down a federally funded rapid response team that had been used to provide quick assistance to employees caught in the midst of mass layoffs across the state.
elimination of the unit, which had been in operation for about a
decade, comes despite the strong protest of some members of a state workforce
advisory board. That board had refused to approve the change at a
meeting last fall, and charged that the state's last-minute change
failed to comply with federal notice requirements.
a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Workforce
Development, said some of the seven members of the team already have
been given layoff notices, while others will be formally notified
shortly. All will be off the state payroll by June 18.
that the state violated the federal notice requirements, saying the
state has the right to amend its annual plan prior to submission to the
U.S. Department of Labor.
The job of responding to mass layoffs
will now be delegated to 13 regional workforce agencies across the
state. Hentschel said the $568,000 in cost savings will be allocated to those regional agencies, "who will absorb the rapid response duties and responsibilities."
The state recently laid off an additional 125 employees who provided career job services at centers across the state.
Derryberry, a member of the executive committee of the state Workforce
Development board, said the elimination of the response team was
inserted in the state's annual plan just two days before the panel was
scheduled to vote on the overall plan.
Derryberry also charged
that draft minutes of the board's Sept. 13, 2012, meeting incorrectly
state that the panel approved the revised plan, even though they
expressly refused to act on the change.
In fact, the draft minutes
contain no reference to the objections raised by Derryberry at the
meeting and, as a result, the panel refused to accept the minutes when
they were brought up for approval at a subsequent meeting.
Grills, the committee chairman, agreed that the proposal to eliminate
the response team was controversial and sparked debate.
"A lot of people questioned it," he said.
defended the omission, stating that the minutes were intended to be
summaries of board action and not "a transcription of all language
contained in a meeting."
The elimination of the unit, whose
employees have a combined 145 years of experience, has sparked a
letter-writing campaign to state legislators and the governor charging
that the last-minute changes were the result of recommendations from an
out-of-state consultant brought in by the recently departed top
management at the labor agency.
In fact, the disputed minutes
quote former Deputy Labor Commissioner Alisa Malone as thanking the
consultant, Mary Ann Lawrence of the Center for Workforce Learning, for
her assistance in developing the plan.
Lawrence, according to the minutes, was present for the September session.
this year, the state of Tennessee halted payments to Lawrence's
company, which collected $1.1 million in fees through the Department of
Labor and Workforce Development despite being cited in two successive
state audits for contracting irregularities.
charged that the minutes seemed to him to be "an attempt to cover up
stuff" and questioned whether the area agencies will have the staff and
expertise to deal with mass layoffs.
Under federal law, to qualify
for federal workforce funds, states are required to have rapid response
mechanisms in place to deal with large-scale layoffs.
Members of the statewide team were deployed last week to assist those being laid off at a General Motors plant.