by Bill Appelhans
The Unemployed Action Center in Chicago has been working in the community organizing folks to join the fight for jobs around the belief that a job that pays a living wage is a right not a privilege.
The following is about one of those folks who came by in July to see what we were about.
Janet entered the building moments before I got there. I saw her go in. She was looking at the listings in the foyer when I walked in. When I asked if I could help she replied she was looking for the Unemployed office. I told her she had just found the right person. Nobody else from the UAC had arrived yet.
By the time I opened the room where the center works and we got seated, Mac, Kirsten and Bobbie had joined us. For the next half hour or so the five of us talked about who we were, what we were trying to do and her unemployed situation.
Her story: at the end of 2008 she was laid off from her job at a small factory. Earlier in 2008 the company had relocated from the neighborhood to a suburb and she then began commuting to the job until being laid off. She had been working for the company for over 30 years. The factory employed some 40+ workers when it was in the area but had shrunk to a small handful by the time she was laid off.
In October she started collecting unemployment comp and continued doing so through the normal 26 weeks and 2 extensions of 13 weeks each. The checks stopped coming October 2009 and has not received any aid since. A tragic end of story.
Well, not quite. We kept talking about it and wondered why she wasn't receiving aid by way of the continuing extensions that had taken place. She said she had received notice in the mail about the end of her benefits and other info about the possibility of her attending school for nursing. She was also notified she should come into the Unemployment office to discuss it.
After more discussion and questioning we came to see she had come to believe the end of benefits notification along with the schooling was the beginning of a whole new bureaucratic process that would not result in any further benefits. She called a few times about the training and was told she would have to pay for it which of course she could not afford. At that point she walked away. Note: she does not use a computer so all this was done the old fashioned way - going down to the office - which most of remember could discourage the most determined.
Now we four UACers must have all gotten up on the wrong side of bed that day because we found a way to further torment this poor lady. It seemed to us, we told her, she should still qualify for benefits and that the school thing was not a condition to do so. We suggested she return to the Unemployment office with her paperwork and check out her status. Mac, angry over the injustice and no doubt inspired by the opportunity to strike a blow, then volunteered to take her down right then and there, sans paperwork, to get an immediate judgment. She was a bit hesitant but we drove home the idea she had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. At least by the end of the day she would know where she stands. Finally she agreed and, praise the lord and pass the ammunition, off they went.
They returned about an hour or so later. Janet was glowing and Mac had the "don't mess with the workers" attitude about him. She was told, based of her story, she would be reinstated in 7 to 10 days. Mac said he was told, after asking to make sure, it was a done deal. Janet hung around talking for a bit longer then said she was excited to get home so she could announce the news. Then she gave each one of us a big hug and kiss and a 'see you next week'. Bring a crowd, we answered. I believe there were a few wet eyes to be seen.
The next week she was back and told us she received the reinstatement papers just two days after the visit along with notification that the checks would begin soon. And they have.
Janet now comes every week and is playing an important role in the Center's work.