Wednesday, May 16, 2007

When I was a kid my mother worked in a mill: United Elastic. She was the last hired, therefore the first to be laid off when work slowed down. She was laid off often. I can remember going with her to the unemployment office in Northampton, which is the town just north of where we lived and where my mother worked.

Easthampton. AKA " Web Town. "

" Signing up " is what she called it. Lining up was more like it. I remember the lines were long in the second floor office located on Pleasant Street in Northampton. Waiting to sign up wasn't a pleasant experience. But it got worse. Once she got to talk to one of the unemployment office workers, she was asked to name five places where she had tried to get a job during the past week. Once, she gave the bureaucrat the names of only four places and was told to leave, walk around Northampton and find a fifth place at which she should ask for a job.

Signing up was a dehumanizing process, to say the least. These days, the process is far removed from the way it was back in the 1950s. But it's still dehumanizing.

Back in February, the part-time job I had at a psychiatric group home was eliminated. I considered signing up for unemployment benefits. Everyone I talked to said it would be no problem. My job was eliminated. Seemed pretty clear cut.

Yeah, right. I am, two and a half months after my last day of work, in the midst of a Kafaesque process, much of it involving me communicating with the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training ( Note that the word " Unemployment " isn't in the name now) on line and by voice message. Yes, I've spoken to three human beings in the past two and a half months, but that is not the rule; it's the exception.

At first I received benefits. Then I got a letter stating that they were going to stop giving me benefits. If I wanted to appeal, I could. I did. I spoke with an adjudacator by phone. That got me nowhere, and the letter I got following the phone hearing painted an inaccurate picture of what I'd said to the adjudacator.

The next step in the process was my attending a hearing in Providence. I was to be there. My former employer was to be there. I drove to Providence. I was there. I showed up. They didn't. I presented my case, recalling what someone had told me. If they don't show up, you win.

I lost.

I've been working since I was 18. I spent four years in the Air Force. I've had three careers. Didn't abuse sick time. Didn't lie about being injured on the job ( Even when I was assaulted on the psych unit where I worked ) then try to collect workman's compensation.

I've worked hard and I've played by the rules. Then a part-time job I had was erased. I found myself unemployed. Signed up. And am getting nothing but grief.

I feel like I'm waiting in a very long line.


Jennifer Warner Cooper said...

Sounds draining.In a sort of universal kind of way. (Hint: there is an op-ed waiting to be written by you here.)

We all have beaurocratic barriers between ourselves and what's fair. Technology, as in automated phone systems, is making things worse.

"Press, or say 'four' if you feel desperately alienated" should be a standard menu item on those systems.

I certainly hope you put those thoughts into an op-ed.

Terrence said...

Thanks, Jennifer. I finally got to talk to someone yesterday - after waiting 25 minutes on hold, my call got dropped. Then I called someone I'd connected with when I first started networking post job elimination day. He was helpful then, and steered me down a cleared path yesterday. I will refile for benefits, but have to drive all the way to Cranston to do it. But at least I'll be dealing face to face with human beings. I may even have to wait in line. Thank God I'm not desparate for the $ involved in all this. It was a part-time job, my weekly payout ain't much. I'd give it up, but it's the principal. I lost a job through no fault of my own. That's what unemployment insurance is about. And you're right. It's an op-ed possibility. Thanks for the support, but I'll survive. What I'm going through is an inconvenience. Thank goodness I'm no Katrina victim wading through that toxic bureaucratic gumbo.

Terry said...

That's why you like John Edwards -- son of a mill worker.

Terrence said...

Hey Terry. Yeah. And I hang out in beauty salons. I'm kidding! I kid the hairdressers and their well coiffed clientele