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More closures could mean another slam on NY's unemployment system

Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press

When the economy fell apart under the COVID-19 lockdown in Spring, all the weaknesses of the state's unemployment system became apparent. It buckled and fixing that was a big job.

The State Labor Department reported Thursday that during the virus recession, more than $53 billion went out to nearly 4 million New Yorkers. On Friday, there are more Erie County workers testing that system, as the new COVID orange program pushes a lot of people out of work at midnight.

Lawyer Ian Hayes represents many local labor unions that regularly deal with unemployment.

"I do also represent individual employees, including some restaurant workers now. They're all experiencing the same problems," Hayes said. "Because of all the obvious stories of what's been going on with the restaurant industry, for example, on and off this year, the workers themselves have had to file claims."

He said the system really doesn't seem to be working well, either for private clients or members of the unions his firm represents.

"There's historic unemployment that has been going on in this country this year and they feel like a tiny drop in an ocean of that," Hayes said. "And, I think, feel overwhelmed by that and don't know how to make their claim get the treatment they think it needs."

Hayes said there are many members of the unions he represents who are veterans of winter unemployment and the other things that happen to working people over time. He said they report the process doesn't appear to be working as well as it has in the past, as they have experienced it, before and recently.

"There's no question that workers are waiting long amounts of time to have their claims dealt with and there's always a lack of clarity," Hayes said, "but I do want to give some credit to the agency and how they have, at least, attempted to handle a volume of cases that they never thought they would have to handle."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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