Here we go Pennsylvania. Senator Scott Wagner has officially launched his campaign to “Make Pennsylvania Great Again,” and it has turned out to be a total nightmare before Christmas for working families. The Trump like figure has been bragging about killing a bill that would have kept four of Pennsylvania’s eight unemployment call centers operating. Now, 520 people have lost their jobs, three of the eight call centers are going to completely close, a fourth is going to be severely understaffed, the wait for an individual to get through on the hotline will go from minutes to hours and possibly days and workers may have to wait an additional weeks or months to have their unemployment claims fully processed. Those are the consequences of Senator Wagner’s initial campaign stunt to become the next governor of Pennsylvania, and this is what “Make Pennsylvania Great Again” is going to look like until the midterm elections.
Sharon Dietrich from Community Legal Services and John Dodds from the Philadelphia Unemployment Project penned an oped showing the horrors unemployed residents will now have to face. In 2012, the Philadelphia unemployment call center was phased out of operation due to lack of federal funding, and the effects of the layoffs were “immediate.” When the Philadelphia center closed:
the calls and caseload from that facility spilled over to the remaining eight service centers, which were simply not equipped to deal with the increased volume. Getting through on the phone became like a winning lottery ticket.
Sharon Dietrich and John Dodds described getting through to the unemployment hotline after the Philadelphia center closed as “winning a lottery ticket.” Unemployed workers would dial for hours or days to get to someone and most of the calls were people “trying to clear up issues that were preventing their unemployment benefits from being paid.”
Senator Wagner has positioned himself as “Trump lite” by bullying one employee who lost their job and then turns around have a henchman hand out Christmas cards with $150 in cash to workers as they are walking out the door. In an email to one employee, he told them “trust me on this – I am not a career politician – and I have big balls” when he was called out on the issue and followed up by asking “do you have the backbone to meet with me and get the full story?”
Then as Altoona call center employees are walking out of their offices for the last time, Senator Eichelberger is handing out letters from Senator Wagner with $150 cash in them to the employees. In the letter, Wagner writes:
Please accept the contents in the envelop as a small gesture of my appreciation for your service.
I am truly sorry that the layoffs are happening, especially at this time of the year.
I will continue to fight to get to the bottom of this disaster.
Please enjoy the holiday & stay warm!
Senator Scott Wagner.
Wagner used this Machiavellian gesture as a way to blame Governor Wolf for not using discretionary spending to keep the call centers open and as a way to drive a wedge between the SEIU Local 668 and the workers they represent. Wagner believes that “the whole thing is a tragedy the way that it’s taking place and honestly, the union that represents these people should have been standing at the door handing out money.”
This is just a preview Pennsylvania. If you think a Scott Wagner governing Pennsylvania is some far-fetched idea, then you’ve been living under a rock since election night.