ROCK ISLAND - As those seeking unemployment assistance here this week said they were not getting the help they needed, the president of the Quad City Federation of Labor confirmed Wednesday he is meeting with the director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security on Friday over changes made with the IDES office in Rock Island.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday and Wednesday, a number of people seeking assistance for unemployment claims said the new system is a mess, with questions going unanswered. Many didn't know the office closed its doors and moved to a new location around the corner.
Dino Leone, Quad City Federation of Labor president, is meeting with IDES director Jay Rowell to discuss some of these issues.
Mr. Leone and union representatives expressed concerns over employment services offered after the IDES closed its door Tuesday at 500 42nd St., and moved unemployment services to a location around the corner to Suite 4 in the same building. The union contends the move was accompanied by a reduction in services.
IDES will now share office space with the Rock Island Partners in Job Training and Placement.
People came to the former IDES location on Tuesday and Wednesday, tried to open the locked door of the former location, and stood looking inside the glass to see if anyone was there.
IDES officials said sharing space will better serve job seekers and is a more, "respectful" use of taxpayer money because both organizations are federally funded. But, those seeking help this week said they weren't aware of the changes.
"What I see is there should have been more of a public notice," said Chris Ward, of Iowa.
Claim question unanswered
Mr. Ward said he had worked some jobs in the Rock Island area and had a question on his unemployment claims.
"I'm quite sure people figure the office is closed," Mr. Ward said.
As he spoke in the parking lot, a woman and a small child went up to the IDES door and found it locked. Two men came by separately, one on a bicycle, another in a car, and found the doors locked.
Irving Griffin, of Rock Island, an employee at John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, said he was unsuccessful in trying to get assistance Wednesday from IDES representatives at the new location.
Mr. Griffin said he was on shutdown at the plant, but is scheduled to go back to work in October.
"When I came here to the (IDES) office last year when we had the shut down, I came in, got on the computer, and they helped me log in," Mr. Griffin said. "But, I don't know what's going on now.
"The help is not there at all. A lady approached me to look for a job, I said, 'I have a job. We're just on shutdown. I'm trying to get my unemployment straightened out. I have dependents.'
'Call this 800 number'
"All she handed me was this paper and told me to call this 800 number."
The letter states unemployment insurance services will no longer be available.
"I asked, 'Miss, is there any way to get online at a computer here where I can log in and see if I did everything all right?" Mr. Griffin said. "She just gave me that look, and I said, 'I take that as a no?'
"I'm like, 'what are you guys hiding?'"
Nicholaus Hetzel, of Colona, a union drywaller, said the number he has been calling to get IDES assistance is no longer in service.
Standing outside the new IDES office, Mr. Hetzel said, "if you Google them or phone book them, it's this number. And, they don't even have a message on there saying they have a new number. This number just keeps ringing through saying a representative will be with you as soon as posible.
"After so many rings, it says all the reps are busy and please call back. And, it hangs up on you.
"I've never been off work to file. I didn't know how to do it. My wife got on the Internet and tried. Now, I'm going to call this new number they gave me and see where they run me around to. I'll go chase more gooses, I guess."
Rock Island resident Kathy Martinez, helped redirect a few of the people she saw in the parking lot on Tuesday to the new location.
People really frustrated
"There were people here today that were really frustrated," Ms. Martinez said. "They're still trying to figure out where they're supposed to go. And, the hours are shorter."
A battle has been waged between representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the state on the changes at IDES.
Greg Rivara, IDES spokesman, said last week the office is not closing. He said the Rock Island IDES office will relocate, but said the former location will continue to serve as a call center and possibly expand.
Mr. Rivara said commonly asked questions can be answered on the Internet.
Those questions include how to certify, along with when and how much an applicant will be paid.
In a release dated September 3, Mr. Leone said residents seeking unemployment assistance will now have to travel to Sterling and Peoria to get unemployment benefits, including veterans and federal employees, who legally have to file in person.
Mr. Leone said the elderly and disabled and those without sufficient computer skills or access to transportation are going to be out of luck.
Mr. Rivara said that is not true. He said on Tuesday there were no issues that he was aware of and people who sought to file unemployment were directed to a computer.
"The Quad City Federation of Labor is mobilizing to oppose this unnecessary and unjust "realignment" of services," Mr. Leone said in the release. "We are asking all affiliated unions in the QC community to join us."
Last week, union officials, along with State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, and Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, held a press conference outside the IDES office that closed, saying they wanted to meet with state officials on the relocation.
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