Layoffs send Rapid Response Team into action State unit that helps laid-off workers now will help "part of our brethren". Maryland's budget crisis


Bill Milligan is used to helping unemployed bank vice presidents, clerk typists and construction workers find work. Now he'll have to help some of his own -- state employees who'll be losing their jobs because of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget cuts.

Milligan is a job finder at a Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development placement office in Annapolis. He's also part of DEED's Rapid Response Team, a specialized crew trained to deal with massive layoffs and plant closings. This time, it's the state that needs the team's help.

It's certainly going to be difficult, Milligan said.

"I do not look forward to explaining to a state police officer how few competitive jobs there are out there," he said. "Bleak."

Schaefer's plan, approved yesterday by the Board of Public Works, takes effect Nov. 1. It calls for the dismissal of 83 state troopers and 25 civilian employees as well as the closing of two barracks and layoffs of other state employees.

"They're part of our brethren," said Bill Franz, a job placement officer who's also on the Rapid Response Team. "I'm certainly going to go the extra mile. I certainly feel for them. It could be me."

Milligan, Franz and 16 other DEED employees have been recruited to help the 1,766 state employees who'll lose their jobs under the cuts. They'll console and counsel the laid-off workers. The group meets tomorrow at DEED's office on North Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore to discuss what can be done for state employees.

"We're taking a look at who these people are, what their skills are," said Dale Ziegler, deputy administrator for DEED's employment and training division, which oversees the Rapid Response Team.

Ziegler says his office is working with the state personnel department as well as various department heads to figure out what to do. "What we found in our experience over time is that it's most important to get to people who are being laid-off as soon as possible, while they're still at their workplace," he said.

Filing for unemployment benefits, writing resumes, brushing up on interview techniques and starting a job search are some of the services the Rapid Response Team will provide for laid-off state employees. Although Ziegler's office has drawn up a general plan of action, no specific details -- office locations, dates, times -- have been determined.

The Rapid Response Team is a concept drawn up in 1988, according to Curtis Kane, DEED spokesman. The team, which fluctuates in size and number depending on the situation, is called into action when a major crisis hits -- say a plant closing at one of the big companies like Bethlehem Steel Corp., or most recently, Campbell Soup on the Eastern Shore. It may require just two people, or nine people, or in the case of the state's massive layoff, 18 people.

"It's a concept," Kane said. "It was formed during the last recession to do exactly what it is doing now. If a layoff is imminent, then we try to give as much assistance."

Unlike a large company's closing down, the state layoff is not concentrated in any one region or any type of profession, which could make it difficult to assess need and assistance. The state layoff will take place everywhere, from a police barracks in College Park to state headquarters in Baltimore to health offices in surrounding counties.

"The consensus in the office is we're really concerned about the state workers and we'll try as best we can," Franz said.

The United Way has set up a 24-hour phone line to help state workers (685-0525 or 800-492-0618 or TYY 685-2159). State workers -- and others who are unemployed or looking to change jobs -- can also walk into one of DEED's 14 job service offices listed in the phone book anytime for help.

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