1/11/08

Labor-owned Assembly retaliates against GOP

After four years, the state’s Labor and Training director, Adelita Orefice, is leaving her job to take a newly created position as deputy secretary of the state Office of Health and Human Services, the governor announced yesterday.

The fate of Orefice’s labor job has been up in the air. Last spring, Orefice found herself in the middle of a political battle in which Governor Carcieri withdrew her name for reconfirmation because she faced an almost certain no-confidence vote by a Senate committee.

The Carcieri administration blamed the trouble on political retaliation by union leaders upset with Orefice’s role as the whistleblower in the scandal involving Beacon Mutual Insurance, the state’s dominant workers’ compensation insurer.

Orefice, 42, an ex-officio member of the Beacon board, helped bring attention to the findings of a confidential audit, commissioned by Beacon board members, that delved into allegations that the company was “providing unfairly discounted insurance rates to individuals and companies with connections to its Board of Directors.”

State officials did not say if yesterday’s job transfer was connected to that incident.

The governor also announced that Sandra Powell, a 19-year veteran of the Labor Department, will replace Orefice as the interim director of Labor and Training.

Orefice shared the news of her departure with colleagues in an e-mail yesterday afternoon, saying she’d chosen to accept the new position “after much consideration” and felt confident in Powell’s leadership.

“Please know that although I am leaving the Department of Labor and Training, I will always have the deepest respect and affection for my DLT family and take tremendous pride in the work we have achieved together over the last four years,” she wrote.

Orefice did not return calls for comment yesterday.

“Lita Orefice has done a terrific job as Director of the Department of Labor and Training,” Carcieri said in a statement. “In fact, Lita has gone above and beyond the call of duty on numerous occasions.”

The governor also referred to what he called Orefice’s role as a Beacon whistleblower. “As a result of Lita’s courage, Beacon’s board and management have been overhauled and criminal investigations have been launched against those who were responsible for the company’s problems,” he said.

Beacon officials had similar praise for Orefice’s “integrity and commitment” as a board member. As an ex-officio board member, Orefice served only in her capacity as Director of Labor and Training. As a result of yesterday’s job transfer, Powell will assume her seat on that board.

AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer George Nee, a former Beacon board member whom Carcieri last year blamed for having “convinced the Senate leadership” to vote down Orefice’s reconfirmation, did not return calls for comment last night.

Orefice, in her new deputy position at the Office of Health and Human Services, will be paid $119,558 — nearly $6,000 more than she was paid in her Labor department position. She will be responsible for helping to oversee the DHS’ day-to-day operations as well as administering the state’s massive Medicaid budget.

The new deputy director position will take the place of the former, and currently vacant, chief of staff position, according to Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal. He could not say how long the chief of staff job has gone unstaffed.

Sen. John Tassoni, D-Smithfield, questioned how the administration could move Orefice into a position “without having a position there. I mean, are we going to have a public hearing…?” he asked.

“Here we are with a half-a-billion deficit and we are just making jobs for people. It’s a disgrace,” said Tassoni, a senior business agent for Council 94, American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Powell’s former $93,000 job as assistant director for the department’s Workforce Development division, will go unfilled, Neal said.

The state’s Labor department is responsible for an array of job and job-training programs. It also oversees work-force protection programs including unemployment insurance, temporary disability insurance and workers’ compensation.

(projo.com)

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