Move to relocate state workers causes concern

As a state agency prepares to relocate 700 jobs from Burbank and Glendale, a Southern California lawmaker is raising questions about the move and whether the agency is doing enough for its workers.

The State Compensation Insurance Fund plans to close its Burbank claims-processing office at 2400 W. Empire Blvd. by late September, with most of the 200 jobs moving to Fresno and Redding.

By the fall of 2012, the agency expects to move its claim adjustments office out of six floors at the Unum building at Central Ave. and the Ventura (134) Freeway in Glendale, with those workers headed for Fresno, Stockton or Santa Ana.

The effort is part of a three-year plan to reduce the agency’s 7,400-person workforce by as much as 12% through attrition, consolidation of office space and relocation of about 2,200 workers, according to State Fund spokeswoman Jennifer Vargen.

Officials say the changes will reduce operating costs at the agency, which is the state’s largest provider of worker’s compensation insurance, by $200 million.

But on May 16, state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations, sent a letter to State Fund’s president questioning several aspects of the plan, including what the agency is doing to assist workers who face tough relocation decisions.

In an interview, Lieu said he felt the agency was doing a poor job of reaching out to workers, many of whom are represented by Service Employees International Union 1000.

“Employees of SCIF had come to me with concerns about what SCIF was doing as far as its relocation plan, as well as some of [the agency’s] projected sales of property,” Lieu said. “I’d been told they have not been transparent and seemed to be having a big communication problem, not only with their employees, but with the public.”

State Fund officials say they’ve tried hard to keep employees in the loop.

In a May 19 letter to Lieu, State Fund President and Chief Executive Thomas Rowe said the agency had recently negotiated concessions for workers affected by the relocation plan. He also explained the rationale for moving the jobs.

“We are consolidating underwriting and claims staff into geographic areas where it is not only more economical for us to do business, but where our salaries are more in line with the cost of living,” he wrote. “This is going to improve the consistency of our services and the stability of our workforce over time.”

Vargen said State Fund recently completed “hard-fought” negotiations with the union related to the relocations. The agency will consider seniority a primary factor in determining who gets first choice on relocating some jobs — such as the claims-processing functions in Burbank — and will allow employees to use more of their saved-up vacation time to move their families.

Since unveiling the relocation plan in December, the agency has hosted resume-writing and job-seeking seminars, offered relocation expenses and encouraged workers who decline to move to be “voluntarily laid off” so they can qualify for unemployment benefits.

Vargen said the agency has made every effort to communicate with staffers.

“We gave our employees notice, with a minimum of nine months and a maximum of one year and nine months, that this was coming,” she said. “But if your job is leaving Burbank, I’m not sure there is any amount of communicating that can make employees feel OK about that.”

[Editor's note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to correct a misspelling of a name]

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