Unemployment Insurance a Statewide Problem

In the first hour of a public hearing about unemployment insurance, two things were clear. Unemployment rules don’t work very well for seasonal businesses and Door County isn’t the only place with seasonal businesses.

The Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council held a public hearing on Nov. 17 via videoconference from seven locations across the state. People filtered into the room at UW-Green Bay to voice their struggles with unemployment rules to the council and those sitting at campuses around Wisconsin.

The biggest complaint is with the required four work searches every week while an employee is collecting unemployment, a rule that went into effect in June 2015.

“We represent just dozens of seasonal businesses that are struggling with this change,” said Robin Schultz from the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior. Schultz is the owner of a marine repair business in northwest Wisconsin. “If they’ve been working with your company three years, five years, we don’t want them to go find another job and they don’t want to find another job. The reason [for work searches] is to help people find new jobs, but with seasonal employment that is not the goal.”

The change to the work search requirement began June 14, 2015. Employees who are planning on returning to the same business can waive their work search for a maximum of 12 weeks. But with an offseason that can last more than five months, many employees are left with the burden of applying to four jobs every week for two months despite the fact they have no intention of getting a new job.

While some view the change simply as an inconvenience, others have watched their employees walk out the door and never come back in the spring.

“We pay in the offseason medical benefits, dental benefits, we do profit sharing,” said Joseph DuPont from UW-Eau Claire. DuPont is director of human resources for a road construction company in Eau Claire. “With that investment that we provide, the intent is that they come back in April. We lay off this week… We lost over 100 employees to other places. Some of these people are 30-year employees.”

“Because our layoff period is typically longer than the eight or 12 weeks, these same hardworking, taxpaying Wisconsin employees are now being forced to perform work searches,” said another owner of a construction company. “As an employer involved in the seasonal road-building industry, the new laws enacted in 2015 do nothing but work against us in our pursuit to retain highly skilled, hardworking and dedicated employees. We have unfortunately lost a number of long tenured and skilled employees because of these rule changes.”

Many of those who spoke at the public hearing called for a waiver of the work search requirement for seasonal businesses. Employees could be required to work at the same place for several years before getting the waiver or a business owner could verify that the employee is seasonal and will return in the spring.

At least one employer spoke about the other side of the work search requirement, where a business owner that is truly hiring receives dozens of applications from people who don’t want to be hired.

“We find the no-show for interviews at approximately 75 percent of these interviews. It’s an incredible waste of our time,” said a representative of an elderly caregiver business in Milwaukee.

“When this went into effect, our employees weren’t upset they had to do a job search, they were more upset that the job search they were doing was taking an opportunity away from someone else,” said a business owner from Eau Claire.

Joy Lang, owner of Jerry’s Flowers in Sister Bay, spoke for most seasonal businesses in Door County.

“I too had 20- and 25-year employees, my employees were my family,” said Lang. She explained that the work search requirements discouraged her employees. Few places in Door County are hiring in the winter, making it hard to even find places to apply to. Meanwhile, in the tight-knit Door County community, other employers know that these applications are not legitimate. It took only one year of the work search requirements to uproot that Jerry’s Flowers family.

“Three key employees out of seven all quit March 1st,” said Lang. “They were all quitting to start their own businesses.”

The next meeting of the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council is Jan. 19, 2017, in Madison. The council typically publishes reports recommending changes in March or April.

Article Comments