By CARL GREEN
East Alton – People talk about Illinois becoming a dysfunctional state under Gov. Bruce Rauner. Well, if anyone needed more proof, check out the unemployment office here.
It has been one of the busiest places anywhere since Granite City Steel began laying off literally thousands of workers, many who need the office’s help to claim unemployment.
So what is the state doing? It’s closing the office, of course!
In recent years, the state has closed its unemployment offices in Granite City, East St. Louis and Edwardsville, leaving the region served only by the offices in Belleville and East Alton.
In a few weeks, it will be down to Belleville only. The state says it will be in “mid-spring.”
Dan Simmons, president of United Steel Workers Local 1899, the largest local at Granite City Steel, is hopping mad about this latest attack on working families by the Rauner administration.
“The only thing we’ll have now is Belleville, which is already processing over 200 claims a day,” Simmons told the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor. “Our guys are already experiencing an hour or an hour-and-a-half just to get in line to get up to the kiosk to fill out their unemployment.”
Anjali Julka, the spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), said the closing is actually the result of a federal law, the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA). She said the law requires one-stop, comprehensive centers that can deal with both unemployment and job-finding issues. The offices are supposed to use “core partner” agencies to make that happen.
“As WIOA does not allow for IDES to administer these services without a required core partner on site, the Department will close three of its ‘stand-alone’ offices in East Alton, Bloomington and Chicago Heights in mid-spring 2016,” she said in a press release.
Also, the closings are expected to save the no-budget government $2 million a year in leases and salary, she said.
Simmons lauded the hard-working AFSCME members in the East Alton office for going above and beyond the call of duty to help workers get their unemployment.
“When we’ve had big groups, they’ve actually come to our location, and they’ve helped our guys fill out the forms so they don’t have to stand in line,” he said.
Julka told the Labor Tribune that the Department is “not anticipating” any layoffs of office workers – even though the Department’s own press release admits it will save on salaries.
GET IN LINE
Julka recommends that workers who don’t want to drive to Belleville to wait in long lines get online and fill out their forms themselves or call the office’s 800 number.
Simmons said that doesn’t work for everybody.
“Half the time they give you that automatic call – they won’t even take a message or put you on hold. They say the volume of calls is too high, so call back later,” he said.
And workers trying to complete their forms on-line often have questions that need to be answered.
“Even the guys who think they are good on the computer are having difficulty,” Simmons said.
The indefinite shutdown of Granite City Steel has been a slow but steady process that began in December and is still continuing, department by department.
Simmons is hopeful the office will stay open long enough to serve most of his members, but he’s concerned about what will happen to future workers who have to cope with layoffs. He intends to take action.
“I’m going to get hold of every elected official we’ve got here,” he said. “We need to get on the horn, all of us, and let them know this is wrong.”
The Illinois Department of Employment Security’s website can be found at ides.illinois.gov. The phone number is 1-800-244-5631.