January 15, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
The Public Employees Federation (PEF) is calling on the state's Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to delay it's plans to hand over operations of a number of juvenile detention facilities located around the city to private companies until new jobs can be secured for about 50 workers in danger of being axed.
"We not only have concerns about whether or not the state is going to use the tools at their disposal to make sure that people will be able to be reemployed in other parts of OCFS or other state agencies, but also what this is going to mean for the protection of the public and the security for these youths," PEF President Susan Kent told LaborPress.
The change over is part of a city and state's so-called "Close to Home" initiative in which youths placed in existing OCFS limited-secure and non-secure facilities are being moved into alternative settings that are ostensibly closer to their families.
The affected sites include Ella McQueen Residential in Brooklyn, Southern NY Residential in the Bronx, Staten Island Residential, Staten Island Community Residence, Bronx Evening Reporting Center, Brooklyn Evening Reporting Center and City Challenge Day Placement, also in Brooklyn.
In addition to the closings, Community Multi Services Offices located in each of the five boroughs are being slated for downsizing. Employees at Long Island's Brentwood Residential Center have also been given notice that they, too, may be impacted by displacement of other employees because Brentwood is in the same layoff unit as the NYC work locations.
Officials issued a 60-day notice about the impending changes as required by law, on January 3, but because the process is ongoing, cannot say for sure exactly how many employees might be out of a job.
The union says that 77 of its members are being negatively impacted. Some have reportedly either already been reassigned, or have decided to retire. That, however, still leaves about 50 individuals facing an uncertain future in a bleak economic climate where unemployment is still hovering around nine percent.
"We have had pre-emptive discussions with the state about the use of civil service law and regulations to ensure that everything is being done to make sure any hiring in the state will first take place by looking at these impacted individuals to see if the job titles that they hold, or the education and training that they have, would allow them to be placed in other employment," Kent said. "But when you wait until the 19th hour and then you roll this out, it diminishes the chances of people being reemployed within the time frame."
State officials insist that the 60-day notice is only a minimum, and that implementation of the "Close to Home" initiative could begin later than that.
"We’re in the process of assessing the potential impact and OCFS is working closely with the Civil Service Department, the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, and the Department of Labor to maximize opportunities for staff impacted," a spokesperson said.
City and stat officials laud the "Close to Home" initiative as a move that will reduce crime and improve outcomes for youth and the communities where they live, as well as improving the efficiency of the state's overall juvenile justice facility system.
But PEF's newly-elected president is not convinced.
"What this really turns out to be, is the state relinquishing its responsibility to New York City, which does not have the capacity, and is privatizing the care of these juvenile offenders," Kent said.
While statistics showing both juvenile arrests and detention admissions in decline are encouraging, Kent maintains that ceding the care and supervision of the city's troubled youths to private vendors is ill-conceived.
"What is this going to mean for the protection of the public and the security for these youths – because the issues with these private vendors have been documented," Kent said. "In terms of security risks, the low pay that they pay their workers, and the turnover of their workers, it's just a recipe for disaster.
The city's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) is releasing a solicitation for non-profit providers to run limited secure placement in three facilities being leased to them by the Office of Children and Family Services.
"We plan to start accepting youth into these facilities in the fall," ACS Deputy Director of Communications Eric Schroeck said. "These will be non-profit provider organizations that will be rigorously vetted to ensure they are highly qualified to serve youth in this population."