Thursday, December 4, 2008

Visiting The Department Of Labor On 125th St.

Last month NYC The Blog filed a report about the number of homeless people appearing in Night Court for fare evasion charges, (yeh! keeping us safe and spending wisely!). This month NYC The Blog has a report filed by Aaron Howell after a visit to the Department of Labor on 125th St.

Post Written By Aaron Howell, Harlem

Jay Donaldson and his friend Nathan Kennedy faced an unpleasant truth as they stared at the 50 to 75 percent discount signs in every store window along the busy shopping district of West 125th Street in Harlem. The same recession that caused these deep discounts also resulted in the two of them leaving the nearby Department of Labor office unemployed.

Mr. Donaldson worked with the shipping company DHL for over six years and lost his job weeks after the company announced plans to layoff almost 10,000 U.S. workers. “They literally told us due to bad management and the economy that they were laying people off,” said Mr. Donaldson. “Unless you’ve worked there for 18 years you were basically [losing your job].”

With neither severance nor pension to ease the strain, Mr. Donaldson must weigh his options in a floundering U.S. job market. Some experts expect unemployment levels to reach as high as 9 percent by the end of 2009. This could equal another 4 million lost jobs on top of the 1.2 million lost already this year. The U.S. economy lost over 600,000 jobs in October.

Mr. Donaldson, clean cut and well dressed, said he plans on going back to school in the hope of making a possible career shift. In the meantime he must live on the money he receives from unemployment, which at the most would be $1,200 a month. “I worry [about money] in a way,” said Mr. Donaldson. “But what can you really do about it.”

For Mr. Kennedy the Department of Labor office has become a familiar sight. In the last year he has only found temporary employment. At his last job, with a building maintenance company, his employer promised him permanent work after 3 months. In the end though his boss could not hire him due to a lack of work.

Mr. Kennedy described the labor office as always crowded, mentioning that Monday mornings draw the largest crowds. “It’s hard out here,” said Mr. Kennedy. “I’ve never seen anything like this, you figure after a month of looking you will find a job, but this time nothing.”

A worker at the Department of Labor, who did not want to be identified, described the busy Monday mornings as hectic. With the inside reception area no bigger than a medium-size doctor’s office, every seat gets taken and people stand everywhere.

The worker said that unemployment checks arrive by mail Monday, so when people don’t receive their checks they come to the office to inquire about them. She also stated that more people have been showing up at the office because of their inability to reach the Department of Labor by phone.

David Carpenter, 29, a member of the Local No. 28 sheet metal union has not worked in 2 months. He said his union doesn’t have any work for him. He has not received any unemployment yet —at first not filing an unemployment claim for a few weeks as he waited for a job and then due to an error on his part when he did file his claim.

He described the last few weeks with frustration as he repeatedly failed to reach anyone at the Department of Labor to help correct his error. “I can’t get anybody on the phone,” said Mr. Carpenter, still holding his cell phone in his hand from a failed attempt just moments before. “I go through all of the menu options [on the phone] and at the end I get to a message that says due to the high volume of calls no one is able to assist you.”

Other cities in the past month have experienced similar problems with filing unemployment claims by telephone. The Boston Globe reported that in Massachusetts one woman tried 40 times over two days by phone, eventually giving up and going to a walk-in center.

Situated on the 6th floor of a building located at 215 W. 125th St., the Harlem Department of Labor office sits above an off-track betting parlor for horse racing. Each place offers the promise of money to the crowds of people out of work. Some of those not working stay near the betting parlor all day, never setting foot into labor department.

Unfortunately Mr. Carpenter found out today that New York doesn’t provide walk-in centers to file claims, or obtain claim information. When Mr. Carpenter went to the office to ask for help, the reception area clerks gave him a pamphlet, and told him to call, write or go online. The reception area gives the same pamphlet to anyone with questions regarding unemployment claims.

Ironically the state Department of Labor office in Harlem mostly houses Workforce 1, an upper Manhattan career center. They offer no services to people filing for unemployment. According to the anonymous source only two persons from the labor department work in that office, and they don’t see people regarding claims.

Leo Rosales, the spokesman for the New York labor department, failed to return any phone calls for comment. He did remark in August to the New York Times that the job market could not be seen in a positive light.

With the holidays here and the job market only worsening, Mr. Kennedy thinks more about his daughter and his ability to provide as a father. “On my end as a man taking care of my daughter,” said Mr. Kennedy staring off into the distance with his brow furrowed. “With Christmas right around the corner and all, I feel it … I feel it, but there is not much that you can do except pray and have hope that you find a job.”
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