AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci decided Wednesday that the hiring freeze in state government will also apply to the state Department of Labor, which won’t hire new staff to manage the rising numbers of unemployment claims.
“The governor is making the hiring freeze much harder,” said David Farmer, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. “When the governor became aware of this hiring, he became very concerned about moving in the wrong direction. The state’s revenue picture is very fragile. We need to look at every alternative before hiring.”
Farmer said the governor was traveling Wednesday and could not be interviewed. According to Farmer, Baldacci had been unaware that the Labor Department intended to hire any new workers until he read about it Wednesday morning in the Bangor Daily News.
The only exceptions to the hard hiring freeze will be for “life and public safety,” such as state troopers or public health workers, according to Farmer, and even requests to hire for those positions would have to be approved by the governor.
“He is constantly trying to rein in hiring and government,” Farmer said of Baldacci.
The 10 proposed Department of Labor positions would have been funded entirely by money from the federal government and were intended to relieve increasing pressure on the call center workers who handle the unemployment claims.
In September, the state counted 6,036 initial, continued and emergency extended unemployment claims. That’s an 87 percent increase over the same month last year, although the emergency extension for unemployment benefits was part of this summer’s economic stimulus package and therefore was not available last year.
The new hires would have been phone specialists and associates, and all would have earned at least $11.78 an hour.
Adam Fisher, spokesman for the Department of Labor, said the news that there can be no new employees won’t deter the department from taking care of Maine’s unemployed workers.
“We’re committed to ensuring that laid-off workers have access to unemployment benefits,” he said.
Fisher said that department officials were “processing” how they will meet that goal at current staffing levels, but did not give details.