Laid Off Unemployment Center Employees Protest Senator Wagner’s Announcement to Run for Governor

Former Allentown Unemployment Call Center Employee Marilyn Mercado Vivas speaking to the media

Like it or not Pennsylvania, the 2018 Governor’s race has officially started, and the stakes cannot be set any higher.  Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is the only person standing between State Senator Scott Wagner and a conservative General Assembly turning the Commonwealth into a billionaire’s paradise.  Senator Wagner is looking to follow the footsteps of Rust-Belt governors Scott Walker, Rick Snyder and Matt Bevin and turn Pennsylvania from a once democratic and union stronghold into a Republican operated right-to-work state.

In the weeks leading up to today’s official announcement, Senator Wagner forced Senate leaders to pull a bill funding the state’s 9 unemployment call centers on the last day of the session.  The following weekend he attended the Republican Governor’s Association annual meeting and had lunch with billionaire mega-donor, and Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos.  Last week, it was reported that he hired John Kennedy from Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania as his campaign chair.  While Mr. Kennedy was the chair of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, his organization received a total $1.09 million from Students First, a pro-charter school that is funded by Betsy DeVos, over the 2012, 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

I was not able to watch Senator Wagner’s official campaign announcement because I was not on the “invited media” list.  It took the campaign staff of the self proclaimed well endowed Senator less than five minutes to remove me from the event.  Outside of Wagner’s Penn Waste complex, a dozen former call center employees and SEIU Local 668 members were protesting Senator Wagner’s decision to force the layoffs and turn the issue into a political one.

Laurie Haines was one of the former call center employees who showed up to today’s event.  She started working at the Lancaster call center 16 years ago as an “interviewer,” the people who basically run the call centers and take claims from recently laid-off workers, and worked her way up to a supervisor position.  She explained the effects the layoffs with wait times jumping to two or three hours and Career Link offices being over ran.  Laurie said her losing her job was “most definitely” a political stunt by Senator Wagner and felt like she was slapped in the face after Senator Eichelberger was handing out $150 in cash to laid-off Altoona employees as they were walking out the door.  She asked “will it pay a bill?  Maybe, but what about your health insurance and everything else?”

Laurie Lebo, a spokeswoman from the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s southern region, was in attendance and expressed concerns about Senator Wagner’s relationship with Betsy DeVos this far out from the primary and general election.  Lebo talked about DeVos’ attempts to privatize public education in Michigan and how she stopped attempts for accountability in the industry.  The Amway heiress has also funded successful right-to-work campaigns.  She dumped over $800,000 to defend and then reelect recalled Wisconsin legislators and spent over $1.75 million on a campaign to turn Michigan into a right-to-work state.

Wisconsin, Michigan and other rust-belt states that became right-to-work states since 2010 have played a role in electing Donald Trump.  These were states that were once Democratic strongholds and since 2010, they became Republican strongholds through gerrymandering state and congressional districts and going public and private sector unions.  The race for Pennsylvania’s governor can easily be one of the most important political stories as the election gets closer, and we are looking forward to covering this race!

About Sean Kitchen 615 Articles
Contributor and Assistant Editor for the Raging Chicken Press. Stationed in Harrisburg covering politics in the capitol. You can send tips to sean@rcpress.org or reach me on twitter at @RCPress_Sean!
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