Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ) about layoffs

Any time Massachusetts state agencies respond to budget cuts, state employees get very worried about layoffs. Rumors about layoffs and reorganizations spread like wildfire.

We have put together this Q&A to answer the most frequently-asked questions about layoffs to help you understand just what happens (or doesn’t happen) when a state agency eliminates jobs.

I just heard there are going to be layoffs. Is it true?

State agencies must go through several steps before a reduction-in-force:

a.) The agency’s top administrators get their final budget numbers for the fiscal year. Then they talk together about how to stay within that budget- whether they will eliminate programs or positions.

b.) If the agency’s top administrators decide to eliminate positions, they decide which jobs they will eliminate. They send the plan to the Office of Employee Relations and the Office of Affirmative Action. Both offices must approve the plan before the agency can act on it.

c.) If OER and OAA approve the plan, the agency then notifies the SEIU/NAGE unit presidents. We meet with the agency heads and OER to make sure the plan is fair and conforms to the contract and labor laws.

d.) The agency gives SEIU/NAGE an updated seniority list.  The agency is responsible, by law (M.G.L. Ch. 31, Sect. 67), to make the seniority list available at all worksites throughout the agency for personnel to review.  NAGE may distribute the list to the stewards in the agency depending upon need and format of list.

e.) The agency sends layoff notices 5-10 days after meeting with SEIU/NAGE unit presidents.

If you hear a rumor about layoffs at your agency, talk to your steward for a little “reality testing.”

What do I do if I get laid off?

Getting a layoff notice is traumatic, whether you have never been laid-off or are a veteran of several layoffs. If you receive a layoff notice, there are several things you must do:

1.) Read the notice very carefully. Make sure you don’t miss any important information.

2.) Talk to your local union steward. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You may want the steward to read the layoff notice, too – he/she may catch important information that you could miss in the heat of the moment.

3.) The notice will tell you to respond in writing within 4 business days. If you want to exercise your bumping rights, you must respond in writing within 4 days! You do not need to use certified mail – you can hand-deliver your response to the person in your agency designated to handle these notices.

4.) If you respond, but do not get your first choice assignment under your bumping rights, respond in writing. You can write something like this: “I am writing to request an explanation as to why I was not given my first choice. Please indicate the reason, and provide me with the seniority date of the person who received my first choice.”

As a “bumping chain” evolves as a result of layoffs, the Human Resource Director of the agency must follow civil service statutes, as well as contract agreement language, for notifying affected employees.

5.) If your job is cut and you cannot exercise any bumping rights, you are eligible for unemployment benefits. Your agency will give you information about applying for unemployment insurance, COBRA health insurance, and services offered through the Department of Employment and Training (DET).

What if I get recalled to come back to work?

Under our contract with the Commonwealth, you are automatically on a 3-year recall list with your specific agency, and with all state agencies! This means that the state can recall you to a job with the same title in any agency or area. SEIU/NAGE is the only union that negotiated universal statewide recall rights for members!

If you get a recall notice for a position in your classification, you must respond to it and accept the interview – no matter where it is or which agency calls you. If you decline the opportunity to interview for the position or refuse an offer, the Commonwealth will remove you from both recall lists. This means that you and the agency must make good faith efforts to reach a mutual acceptance of employment. SEIU/NAGE unit presidents check on such negotiations regularly to make sure this practice is being followed properly. If you have any questions about a recall offer, call your president or representative for assistance.

I’m having a hard time dealing with anxiety about layoffs.

Don’t feel bad about anxiety over impending layoffs – it’s normal! In this culture, we identify very closely with our jobs. Just think: what’s the first thing you ask someone you just met? “What do you do for work?”

You may feel anxious, sad, frustrated or pressured with layoffs around the corner. You may even feel these things if your job is spared. If these feelings persist, or if they make it hard for you to go through your everyday life, talk to a counselor, doctor, or member of the clergy. Job loss is one of the most stressful things that can happen in your lifetime – experts consider it nearly as stressful as the death of a close family member - and you deserve support and assistance.

Why didn’t SEIU/NAGE stop the layoffs?

A failing economy causes severe economic distress. Poor state tax revenues and poor revenue projections usually means the state has less money to spend.  The Governor  and the Legislature create the final state budget based on those economic indicators.

SEIU/NAGE is grateful to legislators who vote to override budget cuts. You might want to contact the officials you voted for and thank them for their support – or, if they voted to cut your agency’s funding, ask them why they didn’t support public servants.

Finally, SEIU/NAGE has been working diligently to protect your seniority rights and other job protections from being overlooked or eliminated. We continue to work to protect your rights and protections.