Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why the NYS Unemployment Office is the Lowest Form of Life

     If you find my language strong you'll have to excuse me. I'm presuming you don't have the experience of being unemployed in New York and attempting to collect what you have a legal right to. I say New York because that's my experience but I'm certainly not presuming it's better anywhere else!

    As someone who has been chronically un and under-employed since 2008 the one thing that is clear is that Unemployment Insurance has completely lost it's core mission when FDR established it in the 1930s. Though we don't think of it this way now, UI is actually part of what we now call Social Security(initially Social Insurance).

    An important aspect of SS-as Nancy Altman shows in her authoritative book "The Battle for Social Security" was that the government was supposed to actively work to help citizens enforce their rights to SS. It was emphatically not supposed to erect obstacles for them to negotiate.

     In my own dealings with NYS Unemployment Insurance since March it is clear that placing obstacles is basically their job description.

      After receiving a few weeks of UI in April a few of my past employers put up various objections why they shouldn't be liable for benefits.

      Now the way Unemployment works in NY-roughly the same across the country- is that they look at your last 6 quarters-a quarter is 3 months. Your highest earnings in a quarter-you must have a minimum of 1600 in your highest quarter-but and this is how they start to really mess with you-your cumulative over the 6 quarters must be at least 1.5 times the high quarter.

      You see right away how they are trying to handicap you, if you were able to find a decent paying job(and 1600 over 3 months isn't so decent anyway-they want to penalize you if it is too much of an outlier compared with your overall earnings.

      For me I have worked for a number of different employers starting from March 2010. My main earnings however came in my time at the Census. After the Census I worked at different sales jobs.

     Some I earned a considerable amount at others only about $300-short-term.

      It took the better part of a month to get my claim to start paying because although my quarter at the Census was my highest period by far some of the subsequent employers were slow to supply information. You can fax your earning to UI but each employer still has a chance to contest your application.

     This is what a few of my old employers have done-not the Census of course. One guy-the owner of Royal Chemical in Great Neck NY, not afraid to name names, cept I fogot his name! ; didn't work with him much he was the owner-actually claimed he fired me after cathcing me outside using drugs!

     Total fabrication. Yet NYS UI asked me about it. They believed me once I explained but then some other guy in a short term job I had back in March disputed my reason for leaving. I said I had left for "lack of work" he insisted that it was because I quit-significance of this is that that would be a reason why he didn't have to contribute to my benefits.

     Even though the amount he would personally be trivial-like the guy from Royal Chemical. So this part of my claim was eventually denied-meaning in calculating my eligibility this employer could not count towards my total wages.

     Around this time I got another sales job-what I've found is that, at least for the short term this is an "industry" (telemarketing)with low barrier to entry. I originally, in another lifetime, had an accounting degree.
This job would only last 2 weeks. Me and some other guy started the same day and though I was able to make a sale on my very first call and had 3 sales after 2 weeks while he only had 1 the woman told me after week 2 that "I don't think this job is for you."

     He on the other hand she bent over backwards for even getting him an office mentor and giving him more time-who knows if he's still there... Part of my problem no doubt is she didn't think I take direction well, which is probably true, that's been a complaint about me as my recent morning on DKOS will attest!

       Even though this job ended too early the saving grace is that I made enough money to help restart my claim. They had told me that I needed to have earned at least 5 times my weekly benefit rate-which was not much, while I probably shouldn't tell you how much I can give you a hint: the maximum benefits a week are $405. Yeah that sounds like a livable wage to me!

       So they asked that I fax them a stub to show my wages which I quickly did as you can imagine-I need money! This was in early June.

        Since then there has been one delay after another. First there was some sort of penalty for "lying" about that previous employer who said I quit. Then there was the period that my last company in May had the right to contest my reason for leaving. Perhaps I shouldn't have but felt after being burned that I had better be wholly honest and didn't try to claim "lack of work" this time but admit the woman had sacked me as "it's not for me."

     Knowing that if they contest my reason I could be in the soup again. But after giving them a long time to contest-what they would have to show to screw me on the piddly amount that would come from them(far from the total weekly amount if they would have to pay anything towards my claim for 2 weeks it would be minimal) is that I was fired not for job performance but "breaking company policy" absenteeism, or "drugs" like the owner of Royal tried to say.

     2 weeks ago yesterday-Weds, 7/13 was what I had been told was the last day they had to contest. So I called on Thurs to ask why-according to my online account-my benefits had not been released. He said he would do it then.

    However on Monday of the next week(7/18) still nothing. I called back. I got a woman who claimed they still needed proof of earnings from the job in May(I had already sent in early June as our story showed). She kept me on hold numerous times till it was almost an hour.

    Finally she came back and said that she finally found the stub I sent but that it's not enough. What about the first week? I pointed out that the stub I sent from teh 2nd week showed my cumulative earnings which demonstarte I had met criteria for wages. She said they needed to prove that I had earned all the earnings during that period and not before March-the employer that had been removed.

    Apparently they were gonna play so obtuse as to think that in a 2 week job it's plausible that I worked these 2 weeks non-concurrently! Keep in mind that

    A) I have been waiting now since early June

    B) I have a car payment seriously due which I need to pay ASAP as it may soon be repossessed.

    C) She had kept me on the phone for all told close to an hour just to tell me "We can't release your claim you have to jump through more hoops."

     D). Her overall tone was quite frankly that of a supercilious snob. "Sir I'm only doing my job." Never did she seem to think that doing her job might actually be to help me and the other millions of unemployed. rather than following some rule book.

      Delay I can't afford at this point. And there's a further annoying aspect to all this where every time you call each person seems to have no history of anything you've ever done. They seem not to be aware of previous conversations-which you'd assume would be in their computer notes-and previous actions.

      It's as if you're trying to build a car but every time you get to the garage you have to reinvent the wheel all over again.

      Everything about the Unemployment agency is about placing obstacles-exactly not how FDR desinged it. They don't help you exercise your rights: the exact opposite. To even get someone on the phone you have to go through about 6 long menus with varying wait times-sometimes a long wait.

     On the messages now they have added a delightful new one now that states that "due to the improvement in the New York economy, extended benefits are being cut by 13 weeks." Improving economy?

     About the only place it's improving is at the Unemployement office.

     I mean what I say. They are the lowest form of life. The agency itself and the people who work there-not the janitors but virtually everyone else, anyone connected with the administration of payments and claims.

     Even the website is so rudimentary it never tells you anything current about your claim. Like they are about to shut it off based on needing item x.

      If you are an employee at UI if you are a representative I have a problem with you and it's personal. Don't tell me you are only doing your job. If so you are the lowest form of life. What kind of job is it to screw with people who need help to clinically deny their claims and say "Sir please! I'm only doing my job!" You SOB!

     So how about you? Any experience with UI yourself? If you are unemployed you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Please I'd like to hear your story.

     Have you learned any tricks of the trade that might help?

      And if you are an unemployment representative I appeal to you: Leave a comment too. Show that you aren't the jerk you seem to be. That you are concerned about the public interest. Explain to us why you do care about helping people.

      I want an honest answer? Do you take any pride in what you do or are you "just doing my job!"

      Educate us the public, why we have it all wrong!



  1. In a nutshell, the attitude of welfare and unemployment workers is condescending and ignorant. Anyone on the other side of the desk can expect to leave the office without a shred of dignity. The general feeling is that social service clients and the unemployed are "losers", too lazy to get a job. I know this because I work in a social service office. Are there people who "work the system"? Absolutely. And there are many more people who have fallen on hard times and have need of these services temporarily. If it weren't for this need us social service workers wouldn't have a job or state health benefits for our families and we would find ourselves on the "other side". If you work for one of these agencies try to be grateful for what you have and try not to presume you know every client who walks through the door.

  2. Appreciate your perspective! What we need is a productive conversation of this social issue and this helps us towards this end.

    Anyone else who has worked in Unemployment/Welfare services is very welcome to post!

    Or if you are like me and have been on the other side of the glass-unemployed.

    Or if you have been any kind of unemployment rights activist. I know there is some sort of Unemployment Union...

    What we need here is education. TK again!

  3. I agree with you that they basically put up obstacles... and the people who try hardest to actually work are the ones who get smacked down the most!

    Every time I file that I have worked, within a few weeks my payments stop and I have to call... which if you've ever tried to contact these people on the phone, you'll know that contacting them can become a full-time job since the line is ALWAYS experiencing "high call volume".

    And the reps always give me a hard time about the days I actually said I worked. Because I do freelance work, it's possible I work for more than one client in a days time, and they ALWAYS insist it's impossible to work for two companies in one day. I have several clients I do work for from my home office, and I have some I go out on site for, but sometimes for just an hour or two, so it IS indeed possible for me to schedule work for simultaneous clients on one day -- this is what contract work is all about! They also insist on sending their employment paperwork to my clients, and there's no option for contract or freelance work!

    It's incredibly frustrating when payments are then withheld because NYS Unemployment has questions for me. I've faxed back forms, I've tried calling, but until I reach a human being -- which can be near impossible -- the payment won't be released. Considering it's a series of simple questions to answer, I DO NOT understand why these questions aren't asked right online when you say "YES" to the question of having worked in a given week.

    When I tell friends and family about all this, of course they think I must be doing something wrong because it just can't work so poorly... but really, it does. I've even gone into a local career center to try to get them to help me, but their hands are tied and the woman there even sympathized with what I was telling her. She said it was absolutely true that it seems like the ones who actually try to minimize their claims by doing actual work and being honest about it are the ones who suffer the most!

  4. It's disgusting that you feel so entitled to compensation for your ineptitude. You should be ashamed for relying on productive members of society to ameliorate your well-deserved state.

  5. I got bad news for you Anon. This piece is 3 years old-I've had a job the last two years and actually am now coming into some significant funds.

    Oh but wait!

    So I'm out of my well-deserved state. Love it or leave it.