Hours cut for workers who answer unemployment calls - abc27 WHTM

Hours cut for workers who answer unemployment calls

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They are called triple i's - intermittent intake interviewers - which basically means they're the first people to answer the unemployment compensation hotline when the calls come in.

The word intermittent means they are supposed to work when call volumes are high and then take off when things slow down. Since the recession, though, there's been no slowdown for people that answer the calls from the unemployed.

abc27 has well chronicled the frustrations of our viewers who have waited for hours, even days, to get through on the unemployment compensation (UC) hotline. The Department of Labor and Industry has conceded it had problems keeping up with the volume and it implemented alternative ways for the unemployed to get through.

Earlier this week, L & I Secretary said the problem has mostly been fixed.

"The phones are being answered and they're not as busy as they were."

She also said that the hours of triple i's are being cut from full-time, which they've been for 2 1/2 years, back to part-time as was originally intended. It's partially a policy change and partially cuts from the federal government.

"We are receiving $30 million less to administer our unemployment benefits this year than we did the previous year," Hearthway said. "So we do not want people, especially when they were structured to work in that manner (intermittent), unless it's busy."

The union that represents the 241 workers whose hours were reduced sees it differently.

"It's not saving money. It's not saving in efficiency. And its not saving in getting the work done," said Kathy Jellison, president of Service Employees International Union local chapter.

Jellison insists there's still a logjam of phone calls and cutting back on experienced workers is only making a bad situation worse.

"We can argue whether unemployment is going up or down, but I can tell you folks are still waiting hours on that phone to get through."

Brad Mengel of Harrisburg has answered unemployment calls full time for 2 1/2 years and is now being cut back.

"People are worried. They're worried about their health benefits. They're worried about their income."

Mengel is taking a 20-percent pay cut and says because his employment status is changing he could lose his healthcare.

While his hours are trimmed, Labor and Industry is simultaneously hiring new full-time workers and training them to man the phones. Mengel wonders how that is saving the state any money.

"The new hires coming in are working the 37.5 hours but yet people who have been there as seasonable employees are being reduced. It doesn't make a lot of sense."

Phone calls could be increasing next week. Because of the federal sequester, federal unemployment checks will be reduced 10.7 percent. The average weekly reduction will be $37 for those recipients who have exhausted their 26-week state unemployment but are receiving extended federal benefits.

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