Union, Lawmakers Vow Fight to Stop Forest Service Layoffs
Capitol Hill reportedly was caught off guard by the Labor and Agriculture department announcement that officials planned to shutter Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers.
Just a week after officials at the Labor and Agriculture departments announced plans to shut down the U.S. Forest Service’s Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers and lay off nearly 1,100 employees, the union that represents those workers expressed confidence the centers would stay open.
“The main message I want everyone to take away is that the CCCs are not closing,” said Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, on a conference call with members Thursday. “We generally don’t make guarantees, but we believe this is a fight we can win.”
Last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced that by the end of September, the civilian conservation centers across the country would shift from the Forest Service to the Labor Department. After the transfer, the Labor Department would shut down nine of the centers, and then contract out the work at the remaining 15. It remains unclear how the departments plan to move forward with reductions in force or early retirement and buyout authorities.
Erwin described the effort as an attempt to perform an end-run around Congress, which for each of the last budget cycles has refused to adopt proposals to zero out funding for the centers. He noted that already there are letters and press releases from lawmakers in both major political parties expressing outrage at the decision.
“Make no mistake, this decision will lead to an immediate loss of jobs in rural America and undermine economic development in communities like Anaconda, [Mont.], moving forward,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in a letter to Perdue and Acosta. “The fact that you are announcing this on a Friday before a holiday weekend is even more offensive. I will be working with anyone that will stand up against this decision in hopes of changing your minds.”
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Chairwoman Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., also blasted the decision, noting that House Democrats plan to increase funding for the Job Corps program by $150 million in fiscal 2020, rather than get rid of the program.
“We are disappointed by the Trump administration’s rushed decision to turn its back on the youth that depend on the Job Corps program in rural communities,” they said in a statement. “These programs give young people valuable on-the-job experience and training—putting them on the path to a good job while learning about how to conserve and protect our natural resources . . . [The administration’s] approach is without merit, it is misguided, and they should immediately reverse course.”
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., told the Somerset, Ky., Commonwealth Journal that even Republicans were caught off guard by the announcement. He said he would work with lawmakers in both parties to save the civilian conservation centers.
“Without any prior warning to Congress, we received a notification late this morning to the detriment of Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, including our center in Pine Knot, Ky.,” Rogers told the Commonwealth Journal. “I have had the pleasure of attending countless Job Corps events and graduations over the years to witness the confidence and guidance that these programs give our young people who need it most.”
NFFE Executive Director Steve Lenkart told members that he expects support for the centers to grow once lawmakers return to Washington next week. He said union leadership will be in touch with members frequently as the effort to fight the closures moves forward.
“As far as we’re concerned, the CCCs are not closing, and we mean it,” Lenkart said. “The only thing we’ve seen thus far is a letter that they sent out to show intent . . . We’re not addressing issues such as layoffs or RIFs at this point, since a letter sent six days ago is all that has happened at this point. We need to keep morale up, and keep people fighting for their jobs.”