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Department of Labor announces furloughs, cuts to temporary staff

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The state Department of Labor has enacted layoffs and furloughs for temporary employees who help job seekers because federal funding that the state received to pay for the staff when unemployment was higher has dried up.

The cuts will affect three employees at the Workplace employment agency at 1000 Coffeen St. in Watertown. They are among 212 temporary hourly staffers statewide affected by furloughs.

Starting May 15, those employees will be allowed to work only five days during every two-week pay period, said Cheryl A. Mayforth, executive director of the Workplace. In addition, three state employees at the St. Lawrence County One-Stop Career Center in Canton will be furloughed, Mrs. Mayforth said. Furloughed employees will be eligible to collect unemployment benefits on business days they don’t work for up to six months, according to a shared-work compensation program.

Though no state employees will lose their jobs in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties, 68 positions in the state will be terminated May 14, according to the Labor Department. An additional 24 employees will be terminated in the coming months, as funding for those positions is cut off.

The temporary state employees affected by the downsizing were hired in recent years when unemployment across the country was critically high, Mrs. Mayforth said. But as long-term unemployment benefits expired at the end of December, so did federal funding for staff at employment agencies.

“Funding sources have dried up, so what they’ve done is basically have moved people from full- to part-time work,” Mrs. Mayforth said.

The furlough of three employees at the Workplace ultimately will reduce the level of service available to job seekers there, Mrs. Mayforth said. Two of the employees were hired in 2012 with Emergency Unemployment Compensation funding; the other was hired in 2011 with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“It’s really going to put us in a bind and affect services delivered here,” she said. “We won’t have as many people here to meet with people, but we’re going to do the best we can with scheduling so that we can take care of our customers. In Jefferson and Lewis counties, our unemployment is still quite high. That’s not true in other parts of the state, but it’s true here.”

The Workplace, which has locations in Watertown and Lowville serving Jefferson and Lewis counties, has seven staffers employed by Jefferson County and 11 by the Department of Labor.

In a prepared statement, state Labor Commissioner Peter M. Rivera said federal cuts ultimately forced the agency to shave its staff size.

“Decreased federal funding has affected numerous states, including New York,” Mr. Rivera said. “As a result of the federal cuts, the Department of Labor must reduce the number of work hours and eliminate the position for some non-permanent, hourly staff funded by those federal programs.”

Unemployment rates declined in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, as well as statewide, from February 2013 to February 2014, but joblessness in the north country remains among the highest in New York.
• Jefferson County: 11.7 to 10.5 percent from February 2013 to 2014.
• Lewis County: 12.4 to 10.9 percent.
• St. Lawrence County: 10.8 to 9.7 percent.
• Statewide: 8.6 to 7.7 percent.
SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (not seasonally adjusted)
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