The future of Ross Hunter, secretary of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families, is up in the air after unionized workers at the agency launched a no-confidence vote urging Gov. Jay Inslee to oust him from the post he has held for the last six years.

With some workers insisting that Hunter’s ignorance about the job has put children and staff alike at risk, Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk told The Center Square in an email that “we have not received a petition, but in the event we do we will consider it like any other.”

Faulk added, “The agency does challenging work and Secretary Hunter’s leadership has been integral to their efforts to serve Washingtonians.”

The no-confidence vote was unanimously endorsed by the Washington Federation of State Employees Executive Board on June 23, according to WFSE’s website, which highlights what it calls Hunter’s “ignorance about the work we do and indifference to the issues we raise.”

WFSE represents 47,000 workers across the state.

Hunter, a former seven-term state representative, has helmed DCYF since Inslee appointed him to the cabinet-level position in 2017 when the agency was formed.

According to the union, workers have complained about caseloads, employee turnover and unsafe working conditions. As part of their list of grievances, workers argue much of the tension stems from far deeper issues.

“Mt. Hunter does not understand the work we do and is not willing to listen to WFSE members to understand what we need to do our jobs,” according to the WFSE website. “This impacts the legislation that is supported by our agency and the recommendations made to the legislature. Members have done everything in our power to work with Mr. Hunter to accomplish the agency’s mission to ‘protect children and strengthen families so they flourish.’”

Employees say morale at the agency is low and confusion reigns.

“Staff feels like their leadership doesn’t understand what they do,” said DCYF policy committee chair and Child Protective Services Supervisor Jeanette Obelcz, adding that some workers are now saddled with caseloads more than double recommended levels.

According to the state Office of Financial Management, DCYF has one of the highest staff turnover rates among state agencies, with nearly one out of every five (18%) employees leaving in the 2022 fiscal year, a jump of nearly 7% from the previous year.

In May, seven teenagers being held at the department’s Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie escaped after allegedly assaulting a staff member and stealing a car in an ambush some at least partly attributed to understaffing issues at the center.

DCYF officials later acknowledged the facility was short roughly 30 positions at the time of the incident.

Obelcz said the petition is seeking the signatures of two-thirds of DCYF’s 2,800 union-represented employees, adding that once it hits its target it will be officially delivered to Inslee.

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