Ray Holman is the Legislative Liaison for UAW Local 6000 and, for those of you not familiar with this Local, they represent over 22,000 state of Michigan workers that cut a wide path. Their membership, according to their website, “represents workers in every Department in State of Michigan government. We are the nurses, teachers, doctors, probation officers, social workers and secretaries. We issue your driver license, answer your 911 calls, take care of Michigan’s elderly and provide assistance to Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Clearly, last night when Michigan Governor Rick Snyder delivered his long-winded, meandering State of the State address, the membership of UAW Local 6000 had reason to listen attentively. In a packed house at the Local Union hall in Lansing, cat calls and continued disbelief filled the room as Rick Snyder announced a proposal that would merge the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human Services. It’s move he says will deliver better services. He continued that it was time for Michigan to “service people not programs.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but Ray Holman does.
We know what the record is with this administration and that record is outsourcing services and having bad outcomes for it.
According to Holman, last Friday the Local received notice that 100 state case workers were being laid off in a department that needs more workers, not less. And, as many of us learned in an article in the Detroit Free Press published Sunday, January 12th, a $67 million computer expansion at the Department of Human Services, which was supposed to streamline services and untangle massive paperwork, has done the exact opposite, causing an already strained staff more anguish and stress.
To say the members of Local 6000 have reason to be concerned is an understatement. But get this: they learned about this merger is the same way you and I learned about this merger: through the media. Yes, they were not given any heads-up that Rick Snyder is about to merge two departments, so critical to state government that any move in either department creates a domino effect that can take months to resolve, if even then. In fact, both the Departments of Community Health and Human Services are, according to Holman, terribly understaffed and are in desperate need of people, resources and help. The system is so stressed and bursting at the seams that the announcement of 100 lay-offs was not just met with disbelief, but dismay and depression.
I spoke with Ray Holman after the State of the State Address and his comments were eye-opening. “The speech itself was very vague and there is a big concern with him [Snyder] combining both the Departments and we don’t know what that exactly means. When you are talking about the Department of Community Health and the Department of Human services, both of those Departments are helping people who are most vulnerable. You’re talking about seniors and you’re talking about children, so naturally we are very concerned.”
“On top of that,” Holman continued, “We know what the record is with this administration and that record is outsourcing services and having bad outcomes for it.”
Holman shared what, for me anyway, a startling fact: most caseworkers in Michigan have anywhere between 800-1,300 cases. Yes, you read that correctly.
When the Rick Snyder talked about caseworkers in the schools, Holman was glad to clarify what that program was really doing and how effective it is. “It’s a good concept,” said Holman, “But the problem is you are going into a forest fire literally with a squirt gun. That sounds dramatic but that’s what our case workers are facing. We just don’t have enough boots on the ground to do the job.”
Emphasizing the impact of the 100 lay-offs beyond those who are losing their job, they also have to deal with bumping, which is taking a job from someone else because of your seniority, and many of those laid off now are eligible to take a spot filled elsewhere. Obviously this is not creating a peaceful and stress-less office situation. And that’s just for starters.
Compounding an already full load of responsibilities, caseworkers in Michigan are dealing with a still growing need for their services, in spite of what the Governor would have us believe is a robust Michigan economy. Many people, as we know statistically, have had to resort to taking jobs that pay far less than they were making before the bottom of the economy dropped in Michigan. As a result of that and other factors, the case load in Michigan continues to climb and the need for services, foster care homes, and other issues like energy assistance, food assistance, etc. are taxing a system that just cannot keep up.
The sad reality of this is that most of these problems could have been resolved without any money by simply going to front-line staff and talking to the people that actually do the work.
Another example of the problems with both the computer issue mentioned earlier and the foster care program in Michigan is that many foster care families have had to endure months upon months of delays in being paid and reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses for the general care and upkeep of the child placed in their homes. And, according to Holman, the administration is “in denial” about the computer system and how poorly it functions. The caseload is extremely stressful to begin with but then to work with a computer system that just doesn’t work makes caseworkers want to “bang their heads again a wall” Holman told me.
“The sad reality of this is that most of these problems could have been resolved without any money by simply going to front-line staff and talking to the people that actually do the work”, stated Holman. But, like failing to warn them that a merger was proposed, the update to the computer software was also not shared until after it was agreed to and ready for use.
Doesn’t make sense to you? Welcome to Michigan State Government.
With respect to merger or the consolidation, Holman agrees this will be a massive undertaking and, in the same way the membership of UAW Local 6000 learned out about this through the media just 24 hours ago, they have not been approached as yet for their input. The future is murky at best and, as Holman pointed out to me, you are dealing with food, energy, investigating abuse and neglect, Medicaid, and other programs that are essential to people. These programs are obviously, for many of the recipients, a matter of life and death.
Holman also expressed concern when Governor Snyder mentioned people over programs, saying, “That really gives me pause. Does that mean outsourcing again? Does it mean eliminating programs? Just what does that mean?”
“After the speech tonight, everyone there [at the Union hall] was very concerned”, Holman added.
What we have is an announcement of massive change. We are talking about life and death. What we are talking about is taking essential services and revamping two storied and necessary Departments that are already beyond the breaking point and making them one. We have seen what happened with Aramark in the prison system when they took over the food service. That outcome has been embarrassing, to say the least. We had a case a few years back where caregivers at a home for disabled Veterans run by the state outsourced the caregivers’ jobs and, within a week of this change, the outsourcing mistake was responsible for massive problems, complaints, and serious issues thanks to undertrained staff and no accountability.
Yes, we need to be concerned and not let the rhetoric obscure the facts. I will be following the plight of the members of UAW Local 6000 and will be bringing real stories from the front lines as to how these proposed changes impact the frontline workers and they people they care for.
I have a bad feeling, a very bad feeling, and just maybe we can do something to stop this before someone loses their life in the pursuit of “efficiency”.