Laid-off workers struggle to get pay

Published 5:31 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Some of the 68 employees laid off by the city in early November are reporting difficulties in acquiring their unemployment payments for a variety of reasons.

Curtis Wimberley, former Football Director and Recreation Specialist for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, claims that he was told by an employee in the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) that the city has not paid its share of the unemployment benefits due to laid off workers.

Further, Wimberley added, he was informed that the city failed to notify the department of a mass lay off of municipal employees.

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Another worker was told that the department has been unable to contact anyone in city government and, as a result, is unable to move forward with paying out claims to those who have applied.

However, the information relayed to these workers doesn’t seem to match ADOL protocol.

In regard to the city having to fund unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) Communications Director Tara Hutchinson said municipalities function differently than other businesses.

While regular businesses are required to regularly make contributions to unemployment funds, municipalities are “reimbursables,” meaning the department pays the benefits due to those approved to receive them and bills the city afterwards.

Hutchinson said that if every laid-off employee applied for unemployment and was approved at the maximum rate, which is $275 for 26 weeks, the total cost to the city would be $486,200.

It takes roughly three weeks to process and approve unemployment claims, so laid-off workers in Selma would have been eligible to receive their first payments this week if they had filed on the same day as the lay-offs went into effect.

These payments would only be approved if the applicant meets the department’s criteria regarding the length of employment, pay rate and other requirements.

In regard to advance notification, either to ADOL or local workers, municipalities are exempt from the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which requires most employers to provide workers with a 60-day notification before a mass lay off.

According to David Niesen in the Dislocated Workers Unit of the Alabama Department of Commerce (ADOC), a “Rapid Response” meeting was held by the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Rapid Response Unit with “affected employees” Nov. 5.

Though he didn’t have firm numbers, Niesen said the meeting was well attended and discussed the variety of options available to laid-off workers in the area, including up to $12,000 in grant money for retraining at a community college and up to $30,000 in grant money for mortgage assistance.

“We were just thankful to the mayor for letting us come and speak,” Niesen said.

Niesen noted that, according to law, the mayor was not required to hold a meeting, nor was he responsible for notifying any state entity of the lay-offs.

The disparity between what former workers have claimed they were told by people in the department and the state’s labor protocol may have “simply been a misunderstanding,” Hutchinson said, though she added that no clarification can be made without knowing which department employees shared the information with laid-off workers in Selma.

The mayor’s office and the city’s Personnel Department did not respond to requests for comment.