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Millions of gig workers are still waiting for unemployment benefits

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Rebecca Rainey

Most of the estimated 23 million independent contractors and gig workers made newly eligible last month for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic are still waiting for relief.

Six weeks after the pandemic set off a continuing wave of massive layoffs, only 21 states have started paying out benefits to self-employed workers and others not traditionally eligible, according to the Labor Department. That’s up from 10 last week. The payments are being made under a new temporary program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

New Jersey is one of the states where self-employed workers are still waiting. More than 100,000 self-employed workers applied for jobless benefits there over the past several weeks, but the state won’t begin paying out the benefits until Friday, according to New Jersey state officials. They said the state will then need to take more time to verify those workers’ eligibility.

“The Department has worked hard over the past month to get this program up and running despite the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus, and it is now available,” said New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “While it will take time to determine eligibility for everyone who seeks PUA benefits, the process has begun.”

States reporting the largest number of weekly claims, including California and Florida, have just started to get their systems up and running this week.

California, which launched its new program on April 28, has received 190,000 applications already from self-employed and contract workers, according to Governor Gavin Newsom. But state officials have warned the program is threatened by its overloaded system.

“We are getting our arms around this unprecedented volume,” Newsom said Wednesday.

California’s unemployment system has been slowed and strained by the more than 3.7 million applications it’s received since layoffs began in early March, officials say. The state has distributed more than $6 billion in benefits so far.

Florida, whose unemployment system has also been overwhelmed as more than a million people struggled to get assistance, did not start accepting applications from independent contractors and those are self-employed until this past Tuesday.

The instructions sent out by the Department of Economic Opportunity urged people who had turned in applications before April 4 to try again now. DEO’s own data shows that more than 266,000 people who had applied with the state since March 15 had been deemed ineligible, although the information released by the agency does not specify why people are being turned away.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia affirmed last week that his agency is “working very closely every day with states across the country to help them get these benefits to the Americans who are entitled to them.”

According to DOL, it’s delivered more than $750 million of $1 billion in emergency administrative funding provided by Congress to state unemployment offices to help them handle the surge in claims and implement the new program. “As they request this funding, we’re distributing it quickly,” Scalia said. “And if they don’t request it. We’re contacting them to see how we can help.”

States have been struggling to figure out how to calculate weekly benefit levels for these self-employed workers, whose wage information may be contained on multiple forms and is harder to verify.

California, which last year passed a sweeping bill aimed at compelling businesses to reclassify many independent contractors as employees, has said gig economy workers should be eligible to apply for benefits under the state’s normal unemployment insurance program.

But somedrivers for Uber and Lyft in California say the state is calculating their weekly benefits to be $0, because their companies aren’t sharing payroll information with the state unemployment agency.

Those app-based workers must then request an investigation from the state into their wage information — adding more time to the process.

Workers have also complained they haven’t even been able to apply for benefits, hindered by jammed phone lines and crashing websites, as state unemployment agencies scrambled to beef up their systems following the passage of the massive unemployment benefit extension included under the CARES Act.

Florida’s unemployment website, which was first installed in 2013, had been routinely been flagged by state auditors before the coronarvirus outbreak started. But the surge in jobless claims overwhelmed the system, forcing the state to leave it offline for hours. It was offline all of last weekend as the state tried to play catch up on processing claims. Florida decided to start accepting paper applications due to the website’s constant failings.

The DOL’s Office of the Inspector General recently warned that state legacy computer systems used to process unemployment benefits weren’t up to the job, and threaten “the management and oversight of UI benefits.”

“The risk of fraud and improper payments is even higher under PUA because claimants can self-certify their UI qualifications,” the IG wrote, urging the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration to work with states to establish better methods of detecting fraud and recovering improper payments.

DOL officials say the department has been reaching out to the states to discuss and offer assistance with IT and call center issues.

But according to economists, all workers, including those who are eligible for traditional benefits and don’t have to apply under the new federal program, have been struggling to get the unemployment relief in their pockets.

For every 10 people who said they successfully filed for unemployment benefits during the past month, three to four additional people tried to apply but could not get through the system, according to an survey conducted by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

In total, DOL’s data indicates only 14 percent of the 12 million workers who filed for benefits in the month of March were paid an unemployment check, said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “While many of the claims that started in mid-March were likely paid not until April,” he said, “this figure is yet another sign underscoring the major structural challenges facing the unemployment program as it responds to the COVID-19 crisis.”

How an individual’s claim is processed varies widely from state to state.

“On the high end, Rhode Island made initial payments to 51 [percent] of the 60,000 individuals who filed claims,” he said. “On the low end, Florida only paid 2.4 [percent] of the 280,500 individuals who managed to file a claim, the third lowest in the country, just above Indiana, which stood at 2 [percent].”

In Iowa, one of the first states to get its PUA system up and running, officials pointed to its low unemployment rate and rurality as reasons why it was able to move so quickly.

“For the last couple years, our unemployment’s only been like 2.5 percent,” Iowa State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald said. “So our unemployment fund started out really full.”

“In a lot of areas we didn’t have the shutdown as early as some of the other states,” he added, “so we were probably in a better spot than most other states, and able to attack it.”

Eleanor Mueller, Gary Fineout, Katy Murphy and Katherine Landergan contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on April 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.


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Restaurants’ bailout problem: Unemployment pays more

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Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

Restaurants say their industry needs its own targeted recovery fund because the bailout package Congress passed last month is making it more attractive for their staff to draw unemployment benefits than to continue working.

The new Paycheck Protection Program waives repayment of small business loans if the borrower uses 75 percent of the money to maintain payroll, a measure intended to reduce layoffs. But with the expanded unemployment benefits included in the stimulus bill, some workers can as much as double their weekly checks if they stay unemployed.

The mismatch is particularly acute for restaurants, cafes and small shops — nonessential businesses where pay scales tend to be low that have been put into indefinite hibernation. The National Restaurant Association told Congress Monday that more than 60 percent of restaurant owners believe existing assistance programs, including PPP, are insufficient to keep employees on payroll and asked for $240 billion in aid targeted to their industry.

Restaurants represent less than 9 percent of Paycheck Protection loan recipients, but as of March accounted for the majority of layoffs nationwide as the contagion took hold.

“If the intention was to get people back to work, they’re not doing it,” said Tom Colicchio, the renowned restaurateur and “Top Chef” judge, who has been an advocate for small restaurants during the pandemic. “They’re not going to come back to work because unemployment is too attractive.”

Unemployment benefits vary by state, but in 2019, before the coronavirus crisis, the average weekly benefit nationwide was $370. A $600 sweetener that the stimulus bill added, on a temporary basis, to weekly unemployment checks raises the average weekly benefit to $970, an amount that approximates average weekly pay nationwide and is nearly double average weekly pay within the food industry: about $500 nationwide for full-time workers.

Dental assistants, security guards and travel agents similarly stand to earn more money on unemployment than they can by working.

That doesn’t make the Paycheck Protection Program a flop; indeed, the program is so popular that all available funds dried up last week. Lawmakers are now nearing a deal to add $450 billion to the $342 billionthat the Small Business Administrationhas lent.

Most of that money, however, has gone to support jobs in industries kept open during the crisis, including construction, manufacturing, professional and technical services and health care, which received $169 billion. By comparison, only $30.5 billion went to hotels and restaurants. Local stay-at-home orders could keep these businesses shut down several weeks more, and sales are projected to rise slowly under any phased economic restart because customers may well avoid public places for months.

The National Restaurant Association, in addition to requesting more funds — partly, it said, to help owners rehire and retrain workers — asked Congress to permit businesses to defer the start date of PPP loans until after local stay-at-home orders are lifted, and to allow more than 25 percent of the loans to be spent on fixed costs like rent and utilities.

The International Foodservice Distributors Association will propose similar measures Tuesday, asking Congress to allow PPP borrowers to spend only 50 percent of their loans on payroll and to increase tax credits for employee retention.

One recipient of a Paycheck Protection loan is Christian Ochsendorf, who owns several Dunn Brothers Coffee shops in the Minneapolis area. Ochsendorf says he’s been able to persuade only 40 percent of his furloughed workers to return. In Minnesota, the $600 sweetener raises the average weekly unemployment benefit above $1,000 a week. In 2019, the average weekly wage for full-time food service workers was $548.

“They’re getting paid more on unemployment than they would if they were actually working,” Ochsendorf said.

It’s the same story in Ohio, where workers can now receive $963 a week on unemployment, or slightly more than the average weekly wage. Full-time restaurant workers in the state earn, on average, less than $500.

“Heck, if they’re making more money sitting at home … I’m fearful that some may not want to come back,” said Adam Rammel, the co-owner of Brewfontaine, a bar and restaurant in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

Paycheck Protection loans cover payroll expenses for eight weeks, a time frame that many small business owners judge too short as the scope of the pandemic widens. Some owners are reluctant to accept the money at all, uncertain how they will repay the loan if their workers won’t consent to come back within the prescribed window. Unemployment benefits, meanwhile, have been extended 13 additional weeks. Even the $600 sweetener, guaranteed until July 31, will last weeks longer than a paycheck protection loan.

“The program was designed poorly,” said Amanda Ballantyne, director of Main Street Alliance, a small business advocacy group. “Business owners don’t take out loans to cover payroll when the economy is tanking.”

Many small business owners fear that they’ll have to lay off workers again when the loans run out.

“To take on a loan that has the potential to be forgiven, and then pay my staff to do nothing for eight weeks, and then furlough them in eight weeks, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Andrew Volk, the owner of Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, a cocktail bar in Portland, Maine. “It very much feels like we’re acting as the unemployment office.”

In Maine, full-time food service workers earn $553 on average — less than 60 percent of the average unemployment benefit.

Volk did apply for a loan, but he’s used it only to pay rent. The rest is sitting in a bank account until the state allows restaurants to reopen, putting him at some risk of having to repay the federal government.

Small business advocates and some members of Congress say the U.S. should adopt a European-style grant program that gives direct payments — not loans — to businesses. The Tory government in Britain pays business owners 80 percent of their workers’ wages to keep them on payroll, up to a monthly cap of 2,500 pounds. France, Spain and the Netherlands have taken similar steps, and Germany’s “Kurzarbeitergeld” system of paid furloughs is credited with helping the economy snap back from the Great Recession faster than other European nations. But such ideas have little traction in the current political environment.

“The best thing to do would be giving direct payroll subsidies [and] wage supplements to employers,” said Volk, the cocktail bar owner in Maine. “Keeping that connection between small businesses and their employees is incredibly valuable.”

Zachary Warmbrodt and Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by Politico on April 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.


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Furloughed Disney Workers “Can’t Wait” For Help, But Florida’s Unemployment System Is Broken

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Image result for Hamilton Nolan

At the end of this week, 43,000 unionized Walt Disney World employees will be furloughed, an unprecedented blow to families throughout the entire central Florida region. On top of the sudden loss of income, workers say that they face an even more immediate threat: the broken Florida unemployment system.

Disney is not just one of Florida’s most important employers—it represents a rare island of union power in a state where less than 7% of workers are union members. A coalition of six unions called the Service Trades Union Council that represents nearly 40,000 Disney workers negotiated an agreement with the company this week that guarantees employees will keep their benefits while they are furloughed, including health insurance. They’re also guaranteed the right to go back to their old jobs, with the same wages and seniority, when the theme parks finally reopen. Most of the employees stopped working in mid-March, but secured five weeks of pay. After April 19, however, they are on their own. 

That’s the good news. The bad news is that these newly furloughed workers are now being forced to apply for unemployment benefits in Florida all at once—a virtual impossibility, since the state’s unemployment system is already overwhelmed, dysfunctional, and incapable of delivering the benefits that are owed to everyone who has found themselves newly without a job in recent weeks. 

“Nobody can do anything. Nobody can apply. The system is crashed,” said Wesny Theophin, a Unite Here member who has been a Disney food and beverage worker for five years. His coworkers, knowing he is a union activist, “keep calling me, all afternoon and all night, asking me what they’re supposed to do.” 

There are no easy answers. Fresh off negotiating the furlough agreement with Disney, Unite Here—a union that has said that 98% of its members nationally are now out of work—now finds itself forced to run a week-long protest campaign in central Florida in an attempt to push the state government to make the unemployment system functional. Eric Clinton, the president of Unite Here Local 362, which covers a portion of the workers at Disney, said that “Can you actually collect?” is the question on everyone’s minds. “Many of our members live paycheck to paycheck. How do they make ends meet? There’s going to be a gap of time here that is very concerning to me.” 

Estafania Villadiego has worked as a Disney attraction employee for the past two years. She earns about $13 an hour. She lives with her daughter and her husband, a plumber who is still working. She is concerned about the risk of him coming in contact with coronavirus, and praises the union for getting the company to maintain health benefits. But she speaks in stark terms about the dangerous implications of tens of thousands of her coworkers flooding into the state unemployment system at the same time, and finding that none of them can get through. Her family, she says, cannot survive on just one income—and many of her coworkers have it even worse, either living alone or supporting families by themselves. 

“It’s a very delicate situation for thousands of people in central Florida,” she said. “We need to fix the system right now. People need the help right away. We need it now, we can’t wait. It’s a lie that regular working people have a lot of savings. We need it now.” 

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, facing a state filling up with unemployed people unable to access their benefit payments, suggested Tuesday that perhaps the state could directly enter the furloughed Disney employees into the system in a process of auto-enrollment. Unite Here responded that this was an idea they had suggested weeks ago, when they first started bargaining, only to see their “alarm bells” disregarded until now. 

Eric Clinton says, in fact, that other members of his union have been laid off for nearly a month and have still not received their unemployment checks. Unite Here knew that this would be an issue for Disney workers. But when they suggested the company use its political clout with the state government to seek direct access to the unemployment system for its furloughed employees, the union was rebuffed. 

“Any time they want to do something that helps them,” they can influence the governor’s office, Clinton said. “But not this.” 

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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’No words for this’: 10 million workers file jobless claims in just two weeks

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Rebecca Rainey
Nolan D. McCaskill

Unemployment claims soared to a record-smashing 6.6million last week, the Labor Department reported, more than double the previous week, signaling more economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic.

The rush to claim unemployment benefits occurred as the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus rose above 200,000 and government measures to contain the epidemic shut down increasing swaths of the U.S. economy, with residents in 37 states now ordered to stay at home.

The total job losses in just two weeks — almost 10 million Americans — amounts to a staggering, sudden blow to American workers never seen before in the U.S. economy. The labor market in the coming weeks could blow past the 15 million jobs lost at the peak of the 18-month Great Recession from 2007 to 2009.

President Donald Trump, who built his record for the past three years in office around economic growth and job growth, has now seen gains from much of the past decade evaporate in a matter of weeks. An official U.S. jobless rate that sat at 3.5% in February is poised to top 10% in April alone, eclipsing the peak of the last recession.

“In one line: No words for this,” Pantheon Macroeconomics Chief Economist Ian Shepherdson wrote in reaction to the numbers.

“What we are going through now dwarfs anything we’ve ever seen, including the worst weeks of the great recession,” tweeted Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “I have spent the last twenty years studying the labor market and have never seen anything like it.”

The new figure, which represents unemployment claims filed the week that ended March 28, marks the largest number of weekly claims ever recorded since the government began collecting such data in 1967. The second-highest number of claims were the 3.3 million filed the week before, and the third-highest about 700,000 claims filed one week in 1982.

The new unemployment claims figure was seasonally adjusted, but the raw numerical increase was still a record-breaking 5.8 million claims.

In a prepared statement, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said, “The administration continues to act quickly to address this impact on American workers.” He then pointed to the recent coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and a final rule issued by the Department of Labor Wednesday enacting temporary paid leave requirements for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Covered employers must give workers who are quarantined or experiencing coronavirus symptoms two weeks paid sick leave, and an additional ten weeks leave to workers who are caring for children stuck at home.

Reports from state unemployment offices, which are still struggling to meet the high volume of requests for unemployment benefits, continue to suggest DOL’s weekly claims figure significantly understates the real number of Americans seeking help.

“We’re hoping today’s reading will be the peak, but we can’t be sure,” Shepherdson of Pantheon wrote in an email. “In any event, total layoffs between the March and April payroll surveys look destined to reach perhaps 16-to-20 [million], consistent with the unemployment rate leaping to 13-to-16 [percent].”

Additionally, the number doesn’t capture self-employed workers, who are not eligible for state unemployment benefits. But under a new temporary program that was signed into law one day before the reporting period ended, gig workers will be eligible to apply to state unemployment offices for up to 39 weeks unemployment benefits that will be funded entirely by the federal government. States are awaiting guidance from DOL on how to put this new program into effect.

Also left out of the count are people who left the workforce voluntarily for any reason — including to care for a sick family member, a child home from school, or because they are sick, themselves, from Covid-19, the illness caused by the unique coronavirus.

The Congressional Budget Office released an updated economic forecast on Thursday that suggests the effects of mass joblessness and business closures will sting for some time, with an unemployment rate as high as 9 percent by the end of 2021.

In the nearterm, the CBO projected that the jobless rate will blow past 10 percent in the second quarter of this year, with GDP expected to fall by 7 percent over the next three months.

Director Phillip Swagel cautioned that CBO’s estimates are “very preliminary“ and “based on information about the economy that was available through this morning,” warning the numbers are subject to change and even worsen. The projections assume that social distancing continues across the country for an average of three months and that later outbreaks of the virus are possible, he said.

The increase in claims remained concentrated in the services industries, according to DOL, particularly accommodation and food services. States also reported increases in claims from workers in thehealth care, manufacturing, retail and construction industries.

The greatest number of new unemployment claims were in California, which processed an estimated 878,727 claims last week. That figure is up from 186,333 in the previous week and more than 21 times the typical volume the department handled before the pandemic.

California’s employment agency, which is handling the onslaught of claims, has said it has not experienced delays, but Twitter is awash with complaints from workers about overloaded phone lines, difficulties filing online and confusion about how to apply for federal CARES Act relief as independent contractors.

To speed up the approval process, the department has added hundreds of employees to process claims. It has also relaxed its initial verification requirements at the direction of the state’s labor secretary, allowing the checks to go out more quickly.

After California, Pennsylvania was next with 405,880 new claims.

New York, which leads the country in confirmed coronavirus cases, reported 366,403 new claims last week. That figure, however, is likely a massive undercount. The official tally is almost certainly missing vast numbers of New Yorkers who have been frantically attempting to file claims with the state’s outdated website and telephone lines to no avail.

In addition to the anecdotal evidence of dropped calls and online applications interrupted by crashes, the DOL report sheds some more light onto just how few residents are getting through: New York state had to revise its jobless claim numbers from earlier in the month upward by nearly 85 percent.

“Today’s jobless report shows the grim reality of the coronavirus’ crippling effect on our economy and working families,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The Department of Labor must move heaven and earth to — as quickly as possible — get the expanded unemployment benefits Congress passed last week into the pockets of workers who have lost their paychecks through no fault of their own. America’s workers and families cannot afford a delay.”

New Jersey, which has recorded 22,255 positive cases of Covid-19 since early last month, reported 205,515 unemployment claims.

Illinois has been taking steps to update and streamline unemployment claims. The state received more than 114,000 claims last week.

Over the past few weeks, the Illinois Department of Employment Security website has been moved to a new hardware infrastructure to handle the increased demand. Web, storage and processing capacity has also been improved to meet the increased needs, according to the governor’s office. The state says call center capacity has been increased and daily call center hours have been extended.

Florida will start accepting paper applications for unemployment benefits as a result of ongoing crashes and failures with its online system, Ken Lawson, the head of the state agency that processes claims, said Thursday.

Florida’s online system, CONNECT, went offline for hours Wednesday as the state dealt with an unprecedented surge of jobless claims. Florida had more than 222,000 claims last week.

Lawson, director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, announced the move at a town hall meeting with two Democratic legislators. He also apologized for the ongoing problems. The beginning of the town hall was disrupted by hackers and others who cursed at Lawson and the legislators.

The “next week or two” is going to be difficult, Lawson said.

Katy Murphy, Caitlin Emma, Shia Kapos, Joe Anuta,Gary Fineout and Katherine Landergan contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on April 2, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.

About the Author: Nolan D. McCaskill is a national political reporter covering the 2020 presidential race.

He previously covered Congress and authored the Huddle newsletter at POLITICO, where he started as an inaugural member of POLITICO’s Journalism Institute in 2014 before accepting a yearlong fellowship through 2015, later becoming a breaking news reporter and briefly covering the White House.

Nolan is a December 2014 graduate of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. He was editor-in-chief of his college newspaper, The Famuan, and a former producer for his university’s live television newscasts.

Nolan is PJI’s inaugural Emerging Communicator and a 2017-18 National Press Foundation Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow.


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Workplace bullying targets winning unemployment benefits appeals in New York State

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davidyamadaThanks to a developing line of administrative appeal decisions, workers in New York State who resign their jobs due to bullying and employer abuse could still retain eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Under New York State labor law, workers who voluntarily resign without good cause are presumptively ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. Most other states follow a similar rule. Of course, this frequently leaves targets of workplace bullying in a bind when it comes to qualifying for unemployment benefits. All too often, quitting is the only way to escape the abuse.

That’s why I was so pleased to hear from James Williams, an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York, who sent news of a recent decision in a case he argued before the New York Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.

Case Details

The claimant appealed a denial of unemployment benefits holding that he voluntarily resigned his job with a local government entity, without good cause. The Administrative Law Judge overruled the denial of benefits, rendering these findings and a decision:

The undisputed credible evidence establishes that the claimant left employment voluntarily . . . after being notified . . . that he was on probation, because he felt bullied, harassed and set up by his supervisor. I credit the claimant’s credible sworn testimony that his supervisor’s repeated criticism and scolding of him in a raised voice made him feel bullied and harassed, especially in the presence of other employees. I further credit the claimant’s credible sworn testimony that the supervisor’s actions including pointing and reprimanding him, consisted of the word “stupid”, and other language which embarrassed the claimant and that the claimant believed he was being ridiculed by the supervisor. An employee is not obligated to subject himself to such behavior. Given that the claimant had complained to the employer about the supervisor’s behavior just two months earlier, and that the supervisor’s mistreatment not only continued, but escalated, I conclude that the claimant had good cause within the meaning of the unemployment insurance Law to quit when he did. Additionally, while disagreeing with a reprimand or criticism about work performance may not always constitute good cause to quit, receiving reprimands in the presence of one’s co-workers may be. . . . Under the circumstances herein, the supervisor’s treatment of the claimant exceeded the bounds of propriety, with the result that the claimant had good cause to quit. His unemployment ended under nondisqualifying conditions.

Other Decisions

Attorney Williams relied upon previous decisions by the full Appeal Board holding that disrespectful and bullying-type behaviors that exceed the bounds of propriety (that appears to be the key phrase) may constitute good cause to voluntarily leave a job and thus not disqualify someone from receiving unemployment benefits. They may be accessed at the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board website:

  • Appeal Board No. 571514 (July 3, 2013)
  • Appeal Board No. 559667 (February 28, 2012)
  • Appeal Board No. 558223 (January 25, 2012)
  • Appeal Board No. 549810 (September 10, 2010)

Jim added in an e-mail that potential New York claimants who may fit this scenario “are advised to take steps to try and save their jobs prior to quitting.  They will want to be able to show to the Department of Labor and to an ALJ that they took steps to try to change the situation – complaining to management, human resources, etc. – before quitting.”

Using These Decisions

The reasoning in these decisions is limited to unemployment benefits cases. Furthermore, the holdings of these cases are not binding upon unemployment benefits claims in other states. However, they can be brought to the attention of unemployment insurance agencies elsewhere as persuasive precedent.

In addition, this serves as an important lesson to those who may have been initially denied unemployment benefits after leaving a job due to bullying behaviors. It is not uncommon for initial denials to be reversed on appeal, and these cases provide genuine reason for optimism in situations involving abusive work environments.

This article originally appeared on Minding the Workplace on August 13, 2013.  Reposted with permission. 

About the Author: David Yamada is a tenured Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.  He is an internationally recognized authority on the legal aspects of workplace bullying, and he is author of model anti-bullying legislation — dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill — that has become the template for law reform efforts across the country.  In addition to teaching at Suffolk, he holds numerous leadership positions in non-profit and policy advocacy organizations.

 


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Maine governor faces call for investigation on pressure to deny unemployment benefits

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avatar_2563Maine Gov. Paul LePage is facing some blowback for pressuring unemployment hearing officers into denying more unemployment insurance appeals. A lawyers group is asking the federal government to investigate LePage’s actions:

LePage has violated federal laws requiring the impartial and prompt administration of unemployment insurance benefit, said David Webbert, president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association, in a letter he sent Monday to Gay Gilbert, administrator of the federal Office of Unemployment Insurance, and Daniel Petrole, the deputy inspector general who oversees criminal investigations relating to the federal Department of Labor.Federal law mandates prompt payment of unemployment benefits, Webbert wrote, but LePage has created policies that delay payments, and he has put political pressure on hearing officers to deny payments to workers.

LePage’s Republican allies are predictably painting this as some kind of partisan—and therefore illegitimate—attack. But by the logic Republicans apply to everyone else, if LePage didn’t do anything wrong, he shouldn’t fear an investigation. And the allegations against LePage get to the heart of policy disputes between Republicans and Democrats … actually, not just Democrats, but anyone who doesn’t think business owners should automatically be favored by the government. If you lose your job, should you get a fair hearing for unemployment benefits? LePage says no. If, in saying no, he broke the law, he shouldn’t get away with it..

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on April 16, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.


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End of Extended Jobless Benefits Hits More than 500,000

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Image: Mike HallThis month marks the end of the federal extended unemployment insurance benefits program for 35 states with the nation’s highest jobless rates. More than half a million long-term jobless workers have lost their unemployment lifeline.

Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says:

As we’ve explained previously, EB [extended benefits] will no longer be available in any state, not because most states’ economies have improved to anywhere near pre-recession conditions, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years.

The end of the program that provided up to 20 additional weeks of jobless benefits—in addition to the states’ usual 26 weeks—and the additional weeks available under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), was part of legislation passed in February to keep the EUC alive through 2012.

That bill reduced the number of weeks of available to jobless workers and also changed the formulas that would trigger extra federal jobless benefits, in effect, cutting benefits even further by setting higher thresholds for unemployment pain. Click here for a closer look from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The cuts, a recent report in USA Today notes:

are nudging some Americans into poverty, straining social services just as states and localities face their own budget woes and further crimping weak economic growth as those who lose benefits spend less.

The average unemployed American has been out of work 40 weeks, according to the Labor Department, and there are still about three jobless people for every job opening.

If Congress doesn’t act when it returns after August recess, the situation for long-term jobless workers will grow even more dire because the entire federal EUC expires at the end of the year, leaving workers only state benefits upon which to rely.

Legislation to keep the EUC operating is expected. But with the Republican lawmakers’ track record of blocking, filibustering and other delaying tactics in previous attempts to extend the federal unemployment insurance benefits, the outlook is uncertain.

NELP’s George Wentworth told USA Today:

There’s going to be lots of people without any income still unable to find a job. You’re going to see these people not be able to feed their families and not able to pay their mortgages. It will have a devastating impact on a lot of local economies.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.


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At Least 30 Countries Have Unemployment Benefits More Generous Than The U.S.

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Image: Pat GarofaloAccording to data from the International Monetary Fund analyzed by Tim Vlandas, there are at least 30 countries with unemployment benefits that are more generous than those that go to American workers. The University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Kenneth Thomas broke the data down:

The metric used is the gross replacement rate (GRR) the ratio of unemployment benefits to a worker’s previous wages. The United States gives, on average, a miserly 27.5% of previous wages in unemployment benefits, behind 17 OECD members, though ahead of 11 others (no data was given for OECD members Iceland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia). Not only that, the U.S. falls behind 13 non-OECD members, including Algeria, Taiwan, and Ukraine, all of which have at least double the replacement rate of the U.S.

The U.S. does rank ahead of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, but trails Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Tunisia in terms of the amount of income replaced by unemployment insurance. And in the wake of the Great Recession, instead of fashioning a better unemployment insurance system, Republicans across the country have slashed benefits, even while some, such as Florida, have high unemployment rates. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Congress have blocked andvoted against several benefit extensions.

But it remains the case that there are nearly four unemployed job seekers for every available job opening, making unemployment benefits a critical source of income for those who can’t find work through no fault of their own. And contrary to conservative claims that unemployment benefits are a “lifestyle,” those unemployed workers receiving UI stay unemployed less than two weeks longer than those who receive no benefits at all, according to research by the San Francisco Federal Reserve.

In 2009, average unemployment benefits were just $310 per week, with some states paying much less (like Mississippi, with its $192 weekly benefit). As the IMF data shows, that simply isn’t keeping up with the standard set by other developed (or not so developed) nations.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on April 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.


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Deficit Craze Stiffs Jobless Again — 3 Million Could Lose Benefits in July

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Image: Art LevineDeficit-mania has struck Washington again, with most Democrats and the Obama administration essentially accepting the propaganda of deficit hawks while also calling for extending unemployment insurance benefits. The result? The Senate failed again to pass a relatively bare-bones “stand-alone” benefits extension bill that doesn’t even include a COBRA extension, or aid to the states to pay for their swelling Medicaid rolls. Another modest $10 billion bill to help localities keep teachers on the job is also floundering, even though it’s paid for with spending cuts and legislative savings elsewhere in funding bills .

Any meaningful direct job-creation programs for the nearly 15 million Americans who are officially unemployed are also dead for now — despite a damning new report co-authored by the National Employment Law Project showing that it will take years to make up the jobs already lost. As even moderate pundit Eleanor Clift observed, after viewing a liberal panel calling for massive infrastructure programs to boost the economy, “The actual [unemployment] number, far higher than what the weekly stats tell us, is on the way to becoming a permanent feature of the new economy. And while governments scrambled to save banks, there’s no comparable urgency about creating jobs.”

After the vote, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to try again when a new Senator from West Virginia is seated in the wake of the death of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd. Even the more Democratic-leaning House of Representatives (!) rejected earlier this week a stand-alone extension on Tuesday, too, although it passed a scaled-down one Thursday. But a new vote vote probably won’t take place until after the July 4th recess when Congress comes back into session on July 12th. If the procedure drags on through July, as a new report co-authored by the National Employment Law Project and Center for American Progress shows, the government estimates that over three million people could lose their benefits.

UPDATE: The House passed a short-term extension Thursday, but it’s too late to make a difference for those who will lose benefits before the full Congress resumes in July.

The key vote on the measure fell one short needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. Senator Reid declared (hat tip to The Washington Independent): “It is beyond disappointing that Republicans continue to stand almost lockstep against assistance for out-of-work Americans — especially since many of these same Republicans spent months protecting Wall Street and preserving tax cuts for CEOs who ship American jobs overseas.”

Politico highlights the political dynamics at work — and they don’t favor progressives or unions:

The death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) this week and defection of Sen. Ben Nelson (D–Neb.), a fiscal conservative from a low-unemployment state, helped to seal the fate. But more than any other one issue, the impasse over jobless benefits has come to dramatize the Republicans’ almost single-minded focus on deficit reduction as an economic–and campaign–theme this election year.Just two Republicans, Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, joined in support of an estimated $34 billion bill to extend benefits through November. Early hopes of getting help from Sen. Scott Brown were dashed Wednesday when the Massachusetts Republican went to the Senate floor with his own alternative — heavily reliant on cutting unspent funds from last year’s giant recovery act.

Yet as the Campaign for America’s Future Dave Johnson points out:

The real deficit is jobs. That is one more of those things that everyone can see in front of their faces, but we’re told it isn’t what it is. There aren’t enough jobs, and we’re being told this is our fault because we wanted pensions and good wages and vacations and respect and dignity and please, sir, just a little slice of the pie.In case you haven’t noticed, the world’s economy is suddenly undergoing a classic “Shock Doctrine”-style, coordinated propaganda attack. The wealthy and powerful, having insisted that countries cut their taxes and run up debt, now insist that the middle class and poor must work harder, have their pensions reduced, sell off (to them) their publicly-held resources, and take other “austerity” steps to pay off the debt that these lazy, parasitic peasants dared to run up.

It was especially ironic that on the same day that the Senate bowed to the deficit-uber-alles crowd in Washington, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka was trying to make the case to the President’s deficit commission — whose appointment reflects Wall Street’s conventional wisdom on deficit-cutting — on why expanding jobs and helping the jobless is good for the economy. As the AFL-CIO Now blog reported:

“We must have a job-centered approach to stabilizing the national debt, which would bring us closer to our goal of sustainable, broadly shared prosperity.”To a great extent, the size of the deficit depends on employment and growth. When employment and growth are weak, tax revenues are low and social assistance expenditures are high. When employment and growth are strong, the reverse is true.

He also warned the panel that ending stimulus spending that creates jobs and growth–as many Republican lawmakers are promoting–could send the U.S. and global economy into a double-dip recession, or worse. The Economic Recovery Act, said Trumka:

“did exactly what it was supposed to do. It increased the number of people employed by up to 2.8 million, increased the number of full-time jobs by up to 4.1 million and increased real GDP by up to 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2010. But it wasn’t big enough.”

The harshest words for the deficit commission — whose ideology is helping fuel the Congressional rejection of jobs creation and unemployment benefits — was left for economist James Galbraith. As Firedoglake reports on his attack on the “cat food commission” (via the Roosevelt Institute):

For a quick snapshot, Galbraith’s testimony is divided into ten sections, which address the following points:-That the Commission’s work is illegitimate

-That current deficits and rising debt were caused by the financial crisis.

-That future deficit projections are generally based on forecasts which begin by unrealistically assuming full recovery

-That, having cured the deficits with an unrealistic forecast, CBO recreates them with another, very different, but equally unrealistic forecast.

-That the only way to reduce public deficits is to restore private credit.

-That Social Security and Medicare “solvency” is not part of the Commission’s Mandate.

-That as a transfer program, Social Security is also irrelevant to deficit economics.

-That markets are not calling for deficit reduction, either now or later.

-That in reality, the US government spends first & borrows later; public spending creates a demand for Treasuries in the private sector.

-That the best place in history (for this Commission) would be no place at all.

Galbraith’s conclusion: “”You are plainly not equipped, either by disposition or resources, to take on the true cause of deficits now or in the future: the financial crisis.”

Neither is Congress, which seeks instead to protect the tax breaks of hedge fund managers while denying unemployment benefits to the jobless and allowing nearly 30 million people to remain unemployed or under-employed.

This article originally appeared in Working In These Times Blog.

About The Author: Art Levine , a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate.com, Salon.com and numerous other publications. He can be reached at [email protected]


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