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VOL. 37 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 14, 2013

New labor chief says job searches should be easier

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The state labor chief says cutting services at state jobless service centers shouldn't make it harder for out-of-work Tennesseans to find jobs.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/13NyR50), Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips told the legislative Fiscal Review Committee last week that coming changes should make it easier to search for jobs.

Phillips said the ability to post open jobs over the Internet should simplify searches for work. He also said local nonprofit partners across the state are working with the department.

Among those expressing doubts was House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. The Ripley Democrat said shutting down state-run services at 34 centers and firing 125 state employees decimates career centers just as the recession is ending.

Phillips said the Local Workforce Investment Act should improve connections between jobless Tennesseans and companies needing workers.

"After the career centers were reorganized, there was a lot of angst over that (cuts)," the commissioner said. "But in the final analysis what turned out was we wound up with a broader footprint in the state and not a more narrow footprint."

Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan, also was unconvinced. He told Phillips 35 to 38 workers being laid off by the department are in northwest Tennessee.

"You said that we're making a broader footprint rather than a narrower footprint. How are we doing that? Because in my neck of the woods in Northwest Tennessee, that's not quite the picture that we see," Wirgau said.

Phillips said there are now 23 state-operated comprehensive centers and 52 affiliates run by nonprofit partners under the legislative act. He said there are computer work stations and Internet access in all of them.

Gov. Bill Haslam's administration said the cuts were needed because the career centers no longer had more than $32 million in one-time federal funding. State officials said they put in $5 million last year while the department devised a plan to operate the centers "efficiently and effectively."