Workers Group Calls for Improved Processing of Unemployment Insurance, Plans Rally on Feb. 24

The Hawaii Workers Center plans a rally in front of the Dept. of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) offices at 10:15 then march to the State Capitol for another rally from 11 am to 12:30 pm on Feb. 24, 2021 to raise awareness on workers’ rights and fixing the unemployment insurance (UI) system.

The group is calling on DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio to meet with Hawaii Workers Center representatives, supporters and unemployed workers at the rally at 830 Punchbowl Street.

“We wish to suggest and discuss some positive measures which DLIR could adopt which would aid in getting assistance to thousands of unemployed workers,” said Rev. Sam Domingo and John Witeck of the Hawaii Workers Center, in a press release.

“We have been deeply concerned with your department’s ineffective response to the unemployment crisis and the needs of thousands of unemployed. Now it seems that replacing the current, outmoded computer mainframe will take 18 months! This leaves thousands of unemployed workers and their families to suffer great hardships with little hope of receiving timely and essential UI assistance.”

Since the spike of unemployment claims in the State of Hawaii and to stop the spread of COVID-19, the agency has resorted mostly to online and automated phone contacts. Unemployed claimants have reported difficulty navigating the remote-based systems and find it complex.

To make matters worse, unemployed claimants say the system is taking too long to process to get their unemployment benefits.

DLIR is implementing a new system under vendor Solid State Operations, Inc. that would handle spikes in claims faster. But that transition is expected to take 18 months and there is no plans toward reopening in-person customer service.

Hawaii Workers Center points to other states like Michigan and Nevada with high numbers of unemployment like Hawaii where claimants get in-person help with the installation of plexiglass dividers and shields. They believe the same could be done with DLIR to improve service and process claims for Hawaii’s unemployed workers.

“Many jobless workers lack computers, wi-fi, and/or computer skills, and need assistance and language interpreters. There is a great need to provide safe, direct in-person services as banks, credit unions, grocery stores, pharmacies and other retailers have done,” said Domingo and Witeck.

According to federal figures for December, Hawaii tied another tourism-dependent state, Nevada, for the most unemployment, with a rate of 9.3%. The U.S. jobless rate was 6.7%.

HWC is a non-profit resource and organizing center serving unemployed and low-wage workers and immigrants.

The group in this rally is joined by a new Coalition to Defend and Respect Hawai’i’s Workers that include UNITE/HERE Local 5, Living Wage Hawaii, Hawai’i Nurses Association, HAPA, Young Progressives Demanding Action, Pono Hawaii Initiative, Anakbayan Hawaii, Hawai’i Scholars for Education & Social Justice, Academic Labor United, Hawaii People’s Fund, and the Hawai’i Workers Center. Other organizations are considering joining the Coalition. 

The Coalition has united around several key issues, including defending and advancing workers’ rights; fixing the broken Unemployment Insurance (UI) system (opening up DLIR offices to provide safe, direct, in-person services and timely benefits); the safe return and fair recall of workers to their former jobs; raising the minimum wage; exempting unemployed workers’ benefits from state taxation; banning forced overtime for health care workers; increasing state funding for public education; and reducing inequality and poverty.

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