Former AFRH employees express anger, sadness after jobs meeting

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) – Twenty five people showed up at a Jobs Information Session at the Armed Forces Retirement Home Thursday, hoping to learn the status of their applications. The home hosted the meeting at the request of Congressman Gene Taylor and Senator Thad Cochran, who have heard numerous complaints from many former employees.  The meeting was not what they expected.

"They were telling us how to fill out applications for a government job. That was not what we needed to know," said former employee Jewell Dewaard.

When asked what she wanted to know, Dewaard responded, "Why they're not hiring people that worked here before. It's very upsetting, because I was hoping to go back to work for the government."

"It's disappointing, because we did receive a letter saying that we would get priority," said former employee Regina Rogers.  "I spent since 1992 working at this facility. These patients are like family to me."

"The only hold-up has been us not being treated fairly," said another former employee.  "I have an account. I have a resume, ready to apply. But they haven't advertised it.  Yet you got a hundred some odd residents coming in and you have nurses already in place. That is a lot of anger, hurt and animosity."

The former employees said they should be at the top of the hiring list. But the director of the Gulfport facility said federal employees lose their "return rights" after two years.

"You have rights to your job for two years in case of a RIF, Reduction in Force, which is what happened after Katrina.  And the proposition was, if the home reopened within two years, that they would have rights to their positions. But it's been five years," said AFRH Director Richard Heath.

"I think it's definitely a different case," said Beau Gex, Taylor's District Chief of Staff.  "These people lost their jobs to no fault of their own. They didn't lose their job because of a budget reduction. They lost their jobs due to a natural disaster and I think some preference should be given to them."

The home opens in four days and the director says the hiring process is just ramping up.

"We have a social worker. I know there are some recreation spots. We don't have them posted yet, but there will be business office positions. So yeah, there are still positions to be filled," said Heath.

Officials at the home said 80 federal workers lost their jobs when Katrina hit.  At least four of them have been rehired, but not necessarily for the same positions.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.