From left to right, Fulton County Department of Social Services members Jan Wiedemann, Melissa Rudisill, Abby Cretser and Amanda Carroll gather with campaign signs after recently addressing the Fulton County Board of Supervisors.

JOHNSTOWN — CSEA members employed by Fulton County are tired, worried and angry.

They are tired of chronic understaffing in county departments. They worry about potential impact on community services. They are angry that county management doesn’t see the same urgency.

The workers started and are proceeding with a community awareness campaign that highlights the role recruitment and retention plays in delivery of county services.

The campaign, with the theme “Help Us Put Community Services First,” is tied to efforts for a fair contract. Members of the county’s Highway, Nurses and Office Building units know that a county investment in workers pays dividends in the community through increased efficiency, safety and delivery of public services.

Like many CSEA members, Fulton County workers are facing chronic understaffing. Workers are squeezed between providing public services to their communities while struggling to balance work and family responsibilities. Mandated overtime, less scheduling flexibility and doing multiple jobs at once are common.

County workers are also seeing issues with retention, with new hires leaving county employment shortly after starting their jobs

Longtime workers feel undervalued, exhausted and plan to retire as soon as they are eligible. Other workers want to make their job work and are committed to their career, but they worry they won’t be able to sustain the constant workload.

Public awareness

Since August, county employees have written letters to the editor of the local newspaper, staffed tables at community events, asked businesses to post signs supporting workers and attended monthly Fulton County Board of Supervisors meetings to discuss the effects of the staffing crisis on workers and community members.

In a September Labor Day message to region members, Capital Region President Ron Briggs highlighted the staffing crisis.

Pinwheels were placed outside the office of Fulton County’s Department of Social Services to represent child protective services calls for the month of August.

“The pinwheels currently placed outside the office of Fulton County’s Department of Social Services represent a child protective call for the month of August,” Briggs wrote. “Right now, there are 134 pinwheels. Each call is a new case requiring investigation and all the delicate work that goes into such cases. Each pinwheel is a possible child at risk or family in crisis.

Each case, child and family is the responsibility of a CPS caseworker. Currently there are five caseworkers to handle the load. Fully staffed, the department would have 12 caseworkers. Fulton County members are raising awareness about the lack of staffing and inability of the county to retain workers. We know the issue of recruitment and retention is not limited to Fulton County.”

Jan Wiedemann, a Fulton County caseworker for four years, recently addressed Board of Supervisors, discussing some of the challenges that CPS caseworkers face, including chronic understaffing despite an increasing caseload.

“We work tirelessly to make sure kids on our caseloads are safe to the best of our abilities. There is never enough time in the day to complete notes, enter seven-day safety calls to biological parents and the many other tasks that are mandated by the state,” said Wiedemann.

Wiedemann added that the caseworkers spend their shifts locating families, conducting interviews and assessing children’s safety.

“Home visits to a new CPS report require two workers for our safety,” said Wiedemann. “As far as any actual protection, we have only our words, knowledge, a binder and a pen to diffuse any dangerous situation.”

Wiedemann also asked county officials to raise workers’ wages.

“I have seen a lot of great employees leave because they themselves were eligible for food stamps and other services and could no longer live off what we were making,” said Wiedemann. “What will it take for the county to realize the severity of the situation? Will it take the death of a child and a lawsuit?”

Fulton County Local President Vinnie DePalma, in a recent Letter to the Editor, asked county leaders to prioritize the workforce.

“Social Services, Highway and other departments are working with skeleton crews on 12-hour shifts, and are struggling to keep up with caseloads, repairs, maintenance, child safety calls, senior services and more,” wrote DePalma.

As this edition went to press, members held an informational picket outside county offices to demand fairness. Members are also continuing an email campaign to the Board of Supervisors.

“Things are at a tipping point and the Board of Supervisors is well aware of the urgency,” wrote DePalma. “Despite this, Fulton County employees still do not have a contract that will encourage employment with the county or retain the employees they still have left. What will it take for county leaders to act?”

— Therese Assalian


About Author

Therese has been working as the Capital Region Communications Specialist since 2002 handling all facets of internal and external communications for the region. Therese started her career at a Madison Avenue Public Relations firm and held several positions in public relations, marketing and event planning in corporate and non-profit roles in New York and Pittsburgh prior to moving to the Capital Region in 1999. Therese holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Communication Studies and is also a published freelance writer on travel, food and the arts.

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