The president of Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association Local SI Warren is in a tough spot.
On one hand, Ed Rollinger is doing whatever he can to prevent the closure of the Warren State Hospital Forensic Unit and the loss of about 30 family-sustaining jobs held by his fellow union members.
On the other, he is trying to work with the state agency that announced the closure to help find new jobs for those forensic security employees.
“I can’t just say it’s not going to happen,” Rollinger said. “If it did my members would be left out in the cold.”
The Department of Public Welfare announced the closure in early August saying the unit was scheduled to be fully out of service by the end of October. The forensic unit at Torrance State Hospital has been expanded to allow Warren’s patients to be treated there.
Department officials assured employees that they would provide assistance in finding job placement for those losing their jobs.
“I’ve been trying to work on some agreement that will help my members,” Rollinger said.
In late August, he received information from DPW.
Although the department came through with some of the promised help, it was not what he and the other union members had hoped.
“Right now the only definite they’re offering is three positions for my job classification at Torrance,” Rollinger said.
The forensic unit operation at Torrance has been expanded to include Warren’s patients to its existing population of 64.
According to State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65th), in the past six months, a total of 28 people have been hired at Torrance in spite of a state hiring freeze.
According to union members, those 28 are all forensic security employees (FSEs) and all were hired before the announcement to close Warren’s unit.
There are 27 FSEs at the Warren State Hospital forensic unit, Rollinger said.
Rollinger said about a third of his union members are willing to move to Westmoreland County for jobs at Torrance.
“I would like to see them take anybody who would like to go,” he said. “I can’t see why they can’t absorb them all. That’s what I’m trying to go for.”
The union members have not been offered placement at the only other state hospital forensic unit in Norristown, Montgomery County, he said.
Other than the three FSE positions offered at Torrance, DPW is offering to hold spaces at Warren State Hospital’s civil operation for the union members.
Those are state jobs and they’re in Warren, but there’s a downside.
“It’d be a drastic pay cut for my members,” Rollinger said. He said members’ pay would go down 20 to 30 percent.
Other positions in state prisons may be available.
“We do have opportunities to place into corrections,” Rollinger said.
DPW can’t force the Department of Corrections to hold openings for the FSEs in Warren.
“They can’t freeze openings for us. It’s still a waiting game,” Rollinger said. “People would be furloughed and then go on unemployment. It’s not a ‘one day you work here, the next day you work there.’”
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Forensic unit petition
A man signed a petition Friday to keep the Warren State Hospital forensic unit open at the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA) canopy in front of the Sill House in Warren. PSCOA members have collected more than 1,500 signatures and plan to set up the canopy in Sugar Grove and Youngsville during the coming week.