by Sean Cruz
The Oregon Human Development Corporation, based in Tigard, recruited and hired me in early June of this year (2008) to fill their vacant Employment Specialist position in the Gresham office, located in the Rockwood neighborhood.
Although I was not looking for another job at the time, I jumped at the opportunity to work with OHDC’s clientele of largely Mexican farm workers. I am the son and grandson of Mexican farm workers, and OHDC was offering me an opportunity to return to my roots and help others transition from seasonal or migrant work to more stable employment.
Since OHDC has held a monopoly on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Oregon funds under the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) for the past 29 years, I assumed that they were doing a good job.
Almost immediately after beginning employment at OHDC, however, I became aware of an alarming number of problems and issues within the organization that led me to act as a whistleblower, documenting my concerns in a series of three letters I sent to the U.S. Department of Labor and other parties in July.
Among the allegations documented in those three letters:
1. No one knows who the OHDC Board members are. They do not appear to meet. Any queries about the Board are met with resistance from OHDC Central Office management.
2. Many client files contain little information about the client. What is clear is a pattern: OHDC reports to its funders that clients receive frequent contact and that services are provided, but there is little or no evidence in the files to support those claims. As an Employment Specialist, I received constant pressure to provide positive reports regarding clients I had never seen nor spoken with.
3. OHDC’s workflow and computer systems may be the most dysfunctional in North America. God knows how they get away with this. The (appropriately titled) MIS Manager lives in another state, racking up frequent flyer miles at farm worker expense.
4. ESL classes are vital to client success, because lack of English skills are their greatest barrier to employment and advancement. Over a period of years, OHDC has represented that its Gresham clients receive ESL instruction, but the only record of such are attendance sheets. There is no requirement that the ESL instructor teach any specific curricula or meet any goals whatsoever other than to see that clients sign the attendance sheets. No one knows what—-if anything—-was taught in the class. The instructor was a personal friend of Fernando Guttierrez, who hired and re-hired her.
5. Despite the long monopoly of WIA grant funds across the entire state of Oregon, OHDC has no active employer partnerships, not even with the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce or any of its members. This is really hard to believe, trust me, but that speaks to the level of incompetence at Central Office management level and disinterest on the part of OHDC’s Board of Directors.
6. My recommendations were that change be implemented at both the Board and Central Office management levels, and that the Central Office be closed down, with its remaining positions co-located with field offices providing direct services.
None of this endeared me to the long-entrenched Central Office management, but I received a great deal of support and encouragement from both current and former OHDC employees, all of whom recognized that OHDC maintains a hostile work environment and has done so for years.
I never received a reply from the DOL or any of the other parties I had sent the letters to, but OHDC management sure came after me for contacting their funders.
OHDC’s management could not dispute much of what I had written because I had simply written out what any observer could see. Their anger was focused on the fact that I had contacted their long-time funders.
One of the distinctive characteristics of OHDC is the split between Central Office personnel and those employed around the state in its various field offices.
Central Office employees have generally been there for more than a decade, some since the beginning, and with a single exception are non-Hispanic and are not bilingual or bicultural, even though nearly 100% of OHDC clients are Spanish-speaking. Central Office employees view their positions as career-length, and plan to retire in place.
Field office employees are 100% bilingual and bicultural, and with a few exceptions, are either terminated or move on in less than a year. The turnover rate must rank among the highest in any industry, and OHDC clients rarely have the benefit of a long-term relationship with a case worker.
OHDC management suspended me with pay for a couple of weeks mid-summer, then brought me back under a Work Performance Plan that was actually impossible to meet. Some of its key deadlines had already passed; it required performance levels far greater than any historical OHDC achievements; and, the Central Office controlled the information necessary to carry out the plan, but due to its massive ineptitude was unable to provide it.
In my three July letters, I did not allege the commission of fraud in OHDC’s reporting, although I strongly suspected it was the case.
As weeks went by, however, it became very clear that OHDC Central Office management was cooking the books so far as describing service delivery was concerned.
The WIA grants require quarterly reports on all clients, and the deadlines for these reports generate much pressure from Central Office to submit reports that will be viewed as a “positive” rather than as a “negative.”
I can tell you that the Central Office is carrying on its books as clients people who haven’t been seen or located in months.
The Central Office pressures field staff to report that these clients are participating in the program regardless. My refusal to do so was among the last straws before my employment was terminated on October 20.
In one case in the Gresham office, OHDC has reported the client’s SSN incorrectly for more than a year. I discovered the error in the days before my firing. The client’s correct (and legal) number is in the file on the client’s tax return, but every OHDC document going back to mid-2007 shows an incorrect number.
OHDC Central Office management is scrambling right now, trying to figure out how to correct this and still look good to the funders, with backdating among the top strategies.
I am aware of another case in the Gresham office where the client’s SSN belongs to another person. OHDC Central Office has taken no action.
Recently, a number of Central Office and field office staff attended a national farmworker conference in Washington, D.C. No information about the conference has been shared with employees who did not attend, but what has been disclosed is that drunkenness and poor conference attendance were issues there, with some employees disciplined and others not for the same offense.
Lastly, for the purpose of this writing, I want to blow the whistle one more time!
At a meeting convened at the Central Office on October 2, Fernando Guttierrez, OHDC’s long time Workforce Development Manager disclosed that “Ron and Chris are running the OHDC WIA grant in Nevada privately. That’s their own thing.”
Ron Hauge is OHDC’s mostly-absent Executive Director and Chris Evans holds the title of Community Resource Program Manager, although he neither manages or is aware of any actual community resources, by his own admission.
The Nevada operation was shocking news; as I had been researching OHDC and WIA issues all summer and had not come upon a scintilla of information to tie OHDC and Nevada.
There is no mention of Nevada on OHDC’s website, or in any internal communication. There do not appear to be any Nevada offices, and a Google search comes up empty.
How does a farmworker in Nevada access OHDC’s services?
I have filed a harassment complaint against Fernando Guttierrez and Ron Hauge with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, and I am talking to an investigator from the Department of Justice.
I will also send this posting to the group that received my three June letters.
Maybe this time they will take it seriously enough to show up and look through the files themselves.
Viva Cesar Chavez!!!
October 22, 2008