With the closure of restaurants and bars across the state, the unemployment office has been under unprecedented pressure to meet the demands of processing an ever-growing number of claims from newly unemployed workers. These workers, often without unions and benefits, make up a large portion of California’s economy, and ensuring their applications are processed in a timely matter often means ensuring they can make rent, refill prescriptions, and keep food on the table.
“It’s very fluid and hectic,” said Irene Green, an SEIU Local 1000 member and employee at the EDD office in Sacramento. “Things are changing on a daily basis, including our work hours, and we have to be very flexible and understanding.”
In Irene’s office, the primary issue is balancing this emerging crisis with personal safety and health. “There is a lot of pressure to recognize the social distancing required, while balancing our essential function for the government and state of California.” But while teleworking requests and social distancing policies in the office have seen some success, it’s been scattered at best. Management bias and unequal treatment in the selection processes have combined to hamper full-scale implementation of the telework policy, creating a situation where some people are permitted to telework while others are not. Issues with personal laptops and cell phones have arisen as well.
“The contract’s ‘health and safety’ protection has been helpful in opening up discussions with management,” said Green, “but it hasn’t led to a more complete solution. This has been an ongoing, challenging conversation with management that has yet to be resolved.”
Green’s department has been handling an extensive amount of excess work as this crisis unfolds, and the need for consistent guidelines has never been more crucial. “Management is neither following their own advice nor adopting directives to telework,” Irene reflected. “And the gridlock can’t be attributed to a lack of technical knowledge, either.” Telework capabilities outlined in the new contract the state signed with the union have been a long-standing component of the office’s general activities. “Offices [in our department] instituted a telework program three to four years ago,” said Green. “But when the coronavirus hit, instead of instructing existing teleworkers to remain off site, there was six-week long fight to allow approved, part-time teleworkers to telework full time.”
“The governor said ‘do this,’” Green continued, “and it was only after the public saw that this was an internal policy that management complied.” This highlights an age-old issue of control, aggravated by management’s suspicion of employees and a lack of faith in the workforce to respect the public’s needs. Not surprisingly, the sentiment is not shared by employees. “Many people want to work but are concerned for their health. In spite of that some of us are still here 6-7 days a week,” Green continued.
The coronavirus’s impact is still spreading, and as conditions change, it is essential that the employees of the state of California be allowed to adapt and keep our state running. “I want the public to know we’re committed to providing our duties as citizens and employees of the state of California. We’re committed to ensuring that benefits can come out, and that management and our department will take us into consideration as well,” Green commented. As the backbone of California, state workers will be the central component of our recovery, and we will continue to fight for our members across the state as they strive to promote efficiency, effectiveness, and safety within our jobs.