Adding Insult to Injury

It was awful enough when Kenneth Brown lost his job in October. But then the hotel electrician took another hit: his former employer tried to block his unemployment benefits.

Brown had begun receiving benefits of $380 a week to try to support himself, his wife and three children. Then the owners of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, just outside Washington, DC, filed an appeal, claiming he had been fired for being deceptive with a supervisor.

“A big corporation like that…it was hard enough to be terminated,” he said. “But for them to try to take away the unemployment benefits, I just thought that was heartless.”

When a Washington Post reporter showed up at Brown’s unemployment hearing in Maryland, the company dropped its appeal and refused to comment.

Kenneth Brown isn’t alone in what he faced. According to an Urban Institute analysis of Labor Department statistics, more than a quarter of people who apply for unemployment benefits have their claims challenged by their employer.

While unemployment benefits are paid out by the government, companies pay unemployment insurance taxes in most states. Although the formula varies from state to state, a company’s unemployment insurance rates are in large part based on the amount of benefits their workers collect when they lose their jobs.

More and more companies are deciding that they can save money by blocking former employees from receiving benefits. According to state and federal laws, workers who are fired for misbehavior or quit voluntarily are ineligible for unemployment benefits. The proportion of claims that were challenged on the basis of so-called misconduct has doubled since the 1980s to 16 percent, according to the Urban Institute.

Laws in some states have made it easier for companies to block benefits, broadening the definition of employee misconduct and putting the burden on the worker to prove his right to receive benefits. Thus, Texas and Florida have a higher rate of challenges “because the employers basically have to meet a lower bar to establish misconduct,” said Wayne Vroman, an economist and researcher at the Urban Institute. The courts also typically favor employers in their rulings.

Some companies spend the extra money to hire firms that specialize in helping them challenge former employees. The Post reported on a company named TALX, whose Web site boasted that it had removed “over $6 billion in unemployment claims liability annually.”

These aren’t the only vultures waiting to prey off of the unemployed. Some 30 states now provide debit cards through which unemployed workers can receive their benefits. The catch: checking a balance or withdrawing the benefits that they are owed comes with a fee.

Citigroup, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase and US Bancorp all have deals with states to handle the debit cards, with fees ranging from 50 cents to check a balance to a $20 overdraft fee. In many states, the debit card is the only option for unemployed workers to collect their benefits.

According to an Associated Press report, “Some banks, depending on the agreement negotiated with each state, also make money on the interest they earn after the state deposits the money and before it’s spent. The banks and credit card companies also get roughly 1 percent to 3 percent off the top of each transaction made with the cards.”

“They’re trying to use my money to make money,” said Arthur Santa-Maria, a laid-off engineer who lives just outside Albuquerque, N.M. “I just see banks trying to make that 50 cents or a buck and a half when I should be given the service for free.”

The AP calculated that Central Bank, which handles the cards for the state of Missouri — with 94,883 people claiming unemployment benefits through debit cards — stood to make an average of $6.3 million a year.

Existing unemployment rules already leave out thousands of workers. Even though the majority of jobless workers contributed to unemployment insurance, only 36 percent collect benefits, according to the Department of Labor.

Individual states decide on eligibility rules. Many deny benefits to several categories of workers — for instance, workers who are looking for part-time work only; workers who left their jobs for “compelling family reasons,” such as a child’s illness or domestic abuse; or workers who had previously exhausted benefits and are now in training programs.

Many workers don’t even seek out benefits, because they think they are ineligible or are confused by the rules in their state.

As part of the recently passed stimulus bill, the federal government is allotting $7 billion to try to entice states into broadening the categories of workers who will receive benefits.

The legislation would also offer money to states that agree to update their unemployment insurance rules so they use the most recent payment information when determining a worker’s benefits. Many states still exclude workers’ most recent three to five months of employment when determining if they have worked and earned enough to qualify for benefits, because the rules were instituted before widespread use of computers.

The stimulus plan will increase weekly benefits by $25 through 2009 and extend benefits for up to 33 weeks–an immediate improvement for a growing number of workers.

Joyce Burke has been trying to find a job for more than a year after losing her job at Chase Bank in Westerville, Ohio. “I’m only getting $200 a week in unemployment,” Burke told the Columbus Dispatch. “I’d never been on unemployment before. Now I eat one meal a day.”

The stimulus bill’s $7 billion is recognition that the safety net for unemployed workers as it exists today is grossly insufficient. But much more is needed to overcome the injustices that face workers after they’ve already suffered the blow of losing their job.

Elizabeth Schulte is a correspondent for Socialist Worker, where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Elizabeth, or visit Elizabeth's website.

18 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Wingnut said on February 26th, 2009 at 9:31am #

    Hi! Ok, let me try to fig this.

    “They’re trying to use my money to make money”.

    Dollars don’t have titles of ownership, and they say “Federal Reserve Note” at the top, so one would suspect that they REALLY belong to the federal reserve… a government agency. So, the capitalism pyramid scheme is OWNED by the government. And since these AmWay (American Way) coupons (money)… aren’t own-able by citizens, the use of “my” in that statement… doesn’t really apply. At minimum, these federal reserve greenbacks/greenstamps… are a possession=ownership thing, right? But even that is somewhat wrong… because…

    In a way, dollars are a symbol or “belief”, much like a free-drink “chip” or “token” that might be issued at a nightclub or bar. The “token” is owned by the nightclub, not by the holder. So, WHY do we chase these greenpapers? Is it because of price tags blocking survival supplies and only AmWay greenstamps are accepted at supply depots (stores)? Is that what the pyramid scheme symbol on the back of the USA dollar is about? Is it about service (servitude) to the AmWay imperialism called “the new world order”? Is capitalism a religion? False idol? hmm. Best Regards!

  2. rosemarie jackowski said on February 26th, 2009 at 1:01pm #

    Good article. This type of abuse of workers has been going on for years. It is getting worse now.
    Some people are avoiding foreclosure and homelessness by joining the “Produce the Document” movement. I don’t know how to fix the problem of employer abuse of workers. Some companies actually pay supervisors to write false documents against workers so that they can be fired “for cause” even when there is no REAL cause for dismissal. All of this, plus a Court system that is run on money and corrupt ‘expert witnesses’ results in NO possibility of justice.
    Folks in my neck of the woods are buying guns and preparing for the unknown. The problem with that is that too many don’t recognize who the real enemy is.

  3. Brian Koontz said on February 26th, 2009 at 10:50pm #

    “So, WHY do we chase these greenpapers?”

    Unless one is a very unusual person one needs money to survive, much less thrive. Often the alternative is crime (as defined by the same people who produce the greenpapers), which makes both surviving and thriving that much more difficult.

    Chasing the greenpapers is the path of least resistance, and in many cases is the only reasonable option.

    Successful slavery is a matter of controlling people’s choices. Chasing the greenpapers is merely one part of modern slavery.

  4. Tree said on February 27th, 2009 at 6:59am #

    Since when is providing oneself with food shelter and clothing modern slavery?
    The hyperbole and earnest, moralizing finger pointing from some of the commenters is too much to stomach. I’d love to know how many of you engage in reality on a regular basis and deal with how things really are instead of how they should be.

  5. Michael Kenny said on February 27th, 2009 at 7:36am #

    Viewed from Europe, this is utterly astounding. Over here, employer contributions are paid in respect of each person employed and are not affected by benefits paid to former employees. An employer has absolutely no standing to challenge ex-employees’ benefits and, indeed, would obtain no advantage by doing so. The encouraging side, from our point of view, is that after 25 years of trying to destroy the European welfare state, US neo-liberals have never succeeded in doing more than chipping a few bits off the edge. The essential core is still there and, now that the tide has turned, can be built on.

  6. catherine said on February 27th, 2009 at 7:35pm #

    Michael, good on ya. For heaven’s sake, make sure this state of affairs continues. From across the pond.

  7. Wingnut said on February 28th, 2009 at 5:40am #

    Hi everyone. Tree, the slavery comes from two main sources.

    First, their are free-marketeer’s price tags blockading the survival supplies, and only free marketeers (competer’s church) coupons are accepted in order to afFORD (get past/over) them and utilize the supplies. Christian/cooperators money should be allowed as well, and so should those who abhor economies and ownership like myself. If America is a land of freedom and choice, why don’t capitalism/economy haters get to eat and “ford” the capitalism0invented cost-of-living via price-tagging everything for each other? That’s forced religion. Capitalism is using pricce tag blockades to extortion/railroad the 18 year olds into using ONLY that system… which is a pyramid scheme…. illegal and immoral. Capitalism is a rat-racing system.

    Second, capitalism enslaves via the use of police-gun-backed ownership… thus blocking us folks who KNOW DAMNED WELL that ownership is a “made-up” thing… from getting some Earth land to use… to make communes and build cooperative societies instead of competitive ones. We anti-capitalists are also blocked by price tags and ownership… from operating television and radio stations… so we never get to re-teach about how wonderful communes, potlucks, barnraisings, and the well-enforced equality policies seen in church playgrounds… are.

    Ownership is fake. Not a single other living thing on the planet uses ownership or economies… nor the tons of garbage that go with them. The overwhelming competer’s church and pyramid scheme-o-servitude-infestation called capitalism, is getting in the way of us Christians and our attempts to save the planet. (its ok, all pyramids like capitalism collapse on their owned)

    We have been enslaved… to greenstamps and entitles of ownership… quite against our will, freedom, and choice. You have, too… if you only stop to think about it. (No, it isn’t “that’s life” or “that’s reality”, its a man-made thing, likely by the Colombian chapter of the Free Masons; ie. district of Colombia).

    Look to the USA military supply system and USA public library system… for proper and moral socialisms. You won’t see monetary discrimination going-on in those places… because… they are moral, or at least attempt to be. Capitalism isn’t even in the ballpark. Do a Google image search for ‘pyramid of capitalist’… see a picture of what you (capitalist free-joiners and force-ins) bought into when you started honoring money and entitles of ownership. Its a con/sham. Busyness (business).

    Yep, you got placed into a “cost of living” when your parents sharktanked you into capitalism at around age 18. Nice tradition/railroading/bandwagoning, eh? Did you follow Life Magazine instead of the Bible… for establishing your intestinal fortitude? That’s how it happens for most greenstamp/entitlement chasers and capitalism buy-ins. Best Regards!

    Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt
    MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right
    (anti-capitalism-ists) (system fighters, not people fighters)
    Bessemer MI USA

  8. Tree said on February 28th, 2009 at 6:27am #

    Wingnut, you may have some points here I may agree with but I have little patience to wade too deeply into your deconstructionist language. Also, I find a lot of your views to be naive and misinformed.
    I’m not a slave. I am Awake and I refuse to allow you to define me as someone who is enslaved to anything.

  9. Wingnut said on March 1st, 2009 at 7:39am #

    Tree, I certainly didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. That is never my intent… and I hope I didn’t. In fact, I respect you to the point of informing you of a potential “other side to the story”.

    You can see the servitude infestation in capitalism (inequal pay and many people working FOR others instead-of WITH others). If you’re awake as you say, you see that. It rampant. Capitalists do “orders” and “order” things and people around… with the power of their greenpaper rationing coupons. Starve people enough, and they’ll gladly jump thru hoops (get a job aboard the imperialism) to obtain those papers. Dolphin Shows 101… luring.

    And if you’re awake, you see the pyramid scheme symbol on the back of the USA dollar bill. And if you’re awake, you know where all the Illuminati and Free Mason symbols are… on the dollar. You know about the tiny owl picture, and about the many occurrences of the very Masonic numbers 13 and 33… in various places on the AmWay rat-racing coupon (dollar).

    If you are awake, you know about spirography (what goes around, comes around, after being handed-on a thousand times)… so you know all loving/giving that you “issue”, comes back to you. And you know that all billing/demanding/timecarding/invoicing/fear that you issue… does exactly the same. You’re awake enough to know which spirography direction is the best one, right?

    Did you join the billers (capitalism) and leave behind the givers (Christianity)? Were you FORCED to join the billers… because that organization had price tags blocking all the survival supplies? And was the “requirement” of THAT price tag “fording”… forced upon you because all the survival land was “owned” when you arrived here? Was all the land and “things”… entitlement-protected and police-gun-protected… so you had no OTHER way to (af)FORD blockades to survival supplies? You HAD TO use money, or die? Thus you were forced to join the competer’s church and use THEIR papers and praise THAT organization/way as THE Messiah of all survival systems… even while you KNOW its disgustingly monetarily-discriminating?

    C’mon, shrug it off and say “that’s life” like the sheeple. Call pyramiding a human nature or God-made thing. Go ahead. The Earth creators are watching right this second. Wash your hands of it… say its not your problem… say it doesn’t directly affect you… say “yay America, aren’t we great”, put on the blinders and the rose-colored glasses, see no evil, hear no evil, monkey see, monkey do. Lets all say the handwashers/forsakers prayer… shall we?

    “Others are doing it, so it must be normal. If its normal, it must be ok. If its ok, it must be good. If its good, it must be right. Amen.” 🙂


  10. Tree said on March 1st, 2009 at 8:04am #

    Wingnut, I’m pretty sure there’s no commenter here who can hurt my feelings.

    As for being Awake. I’m awake enough to know all that you wrote of above about conspiracies really doesn’t matter and that you seem to worship the almighty dollar just as intensely as a capitalist, only in a different way.

    Your either/or, black and white thinking got you in quite a mental bind so in order to bring all of that to its logical conclusion, you have swept all of humanity into these extreme categories. While it may or may not be correct, I’m sure it puts your own mind at ease.

    And in light of your last couple of sentences, let me remind you as you type away on your computer that you are part of this system you have described, too. Did you think it was different and that you are somehow apart of all of it?

  11. danny ray said on March 1st, 2009 at 10:45am #

    Wing Nut,

    Well I have been sitting here for about an hour trying to get my head around your concept of no money and no barter system. I think you have a grand idea !!! lets see what we need to do to achieve your utopia.

    Well first off there just too many of us on the third rock from the sun to all go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Therefore, we find a way to induce about six and a quarter billion to go away. Since we will not be spending filthy money on things like a space program to send them to other planets so that they can pollute it with their ignorant bartering. Therefore, the only alternative I see is to use the excess people on this planet for compost. By the by that will not be very popular. Some of them will not understand that it’s for the best and they may raise a ruckus. Well we will also have to have someone choose who those 6.25 billion people are and they will not have to time to forage for them selves being busy choosing the people for a dirt nap. We will have to feed them, so we will have come up with a new ruling class, cause you can bet your ass that the people who don’t bring the choosers a deer carcass or a basket of cattail roots will be on the next cull list.
    Uhoh we have fallen back to bartering again.

    Then we need to keep the population down. That may not be as hard as you think. What with all the doctors out chasing bunnies and wild plants to survive, they may be a littler to busy for things like neonatal and elder care. That should push the infant mortality to around 80% and the life span down to about 36. add that to the fact that appendectomies and hernia operations usually do not end so well when they are done in a mud hut with out pain killers.

    I see your point soooo clearly, life was so grand back in the Pleistocene. Maybe before we get rid of all the excess people we could find a way to bring mammoths and other mega fauna back to keep our lives interesting. I mean who in the hell would want to watch corporate television when they could play stoop tag with a wooly rhino.

    Yes Wing nut modern life really sucks, I just have one question. How in the hell will you write this stupid shit when you will have to forage at least 10 hours a day to keep body and soul together, Oh that’s right you don’t have a soul do you.

  12. danny ray said on March 1st, 2009 at 10:52am #

    Oh yes, and to the origanal artical, Thank you Elizabeth for bring this to peoples attention I had no idea that this was happening. This needs to be stopped and right damn quick. People who have lost their jobs have enough baggage along to have to put up with the fucking banks ripping them off. this is Corporate greed at its worst.

  13. Wingnut said on March 1st, 2009 at 12:59pm #

    Hi Danny Ray… thanks for the comments. I am not a designer of monetary-discriminationless survival/supply systems… but I have stated some ideas over at…

    Its easier for you to go there as wanted… than it is for me to re-type my ideas. Put simply, it would require a USA military-type of survival system, but instead of the “team” doing war, it does work to ensure inventory levels of team supplies, never fails… no matter how many requisitions for supplies come-in from the “team world” members (everyone). All luxuries go into repositories to be shared by all… just like the military does with “rec services” and “base supply” (GSA store). We’d need to use our computer networking, our ownersless resource distribution system, and our hearts and brains… to their fullest. For the first time, we’d become “civilized” instead of rat-racing.

    There are MANY experts in designing proper monetary-discriminationless communes/communities. I’m not one of them… I just know how to be fair and kind. My main priority is to “bust” felony pyramid schemes like capitalism. Lets hope we don’t have to put all the caps in federal prison for negligent homicide… because… i don’t think we have enough jails. Besides, loving Christian-ish Amish Quakerish communes and their people… don’t punish for gullibles being lured into pyramid schemes. We’re too kind for that.

    As soon as the caps want to promote sharing instead of billing, and are willing to follow New America’s VERY STRICT fairness/equality laws, they will certainly be loved and accepted into the commune just like every other living thing on the planet. We will be stopping the “cropping” of animals and planets, too… so we best get some experts in “fallen” fruits, nuts, and grains. People won’t be allowed to pick it or shake it off the tree. All we can do is catch it in “fall” nets, and the only meat we’ll be eating or carcasses used for something… will be after the animal or plant dies of old age. Needless to say, we’ll be planting about 3/4 of the nation with groves and orchards… per where the plants best like to grow.

    Its a long trail, danray. Ready to head out? Sure you are. Cooperative systems are way better than competitive systems… and survival on the planet… requires we shift that paradigm immediately. Go read all about it and/or pout your brains out and bash me… have fun. Best! Wing McNutt

  14. Tree said on March 1st, 2009 at 1:17pm #

    There was a factory
    Now there are mountains and rivers
    You got it, you got it

    We caught a rattlesnake
    Now we got something for dinner
    We got it, we got it

    There was a shopping mall
    Now it`s all covered with flowers
    You`ve got it, you`ve got it

    If this is paradise
    I wish i had a lawnmower
    You`ve got it, you`ve got it

    Years ago
    I was an angry young man
    I`d pretend
    That i was a billboard
    Standing tall
    By the side of the road
    I fell in love
    With a beautiful highway
    This used to be real estate
    Now it`s only fields and trees
    Where, where is the town
    Now, it`s nothing but flowers
    The highways and cars
    Were sacrificed for agriculture
    I thought that we`d start over
    But i guess i was wrong

    Once there were parking lots
    Now it`s a peaceful oasis
    You got it, you got it

    This was a pizza hut
    Now it`s all covered with daisies
    You got it, you got it

    I miss the honky tonks,
    Dairy queens, and 7-elevens
    You got it, you got it

    And as things fell apart
    Nobody paid much attention
    You got it, you got it

    I dream of cherry pies,
    Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
    You got it, you got it

    We used to microwave
    Now we just eat nuts and berries
    You got it, you got it

    This was a discount store,
    Now it`s turned into a cornfield
    You got it, you got it

    Don`t leave me stranded here
    I can`t get used to this lifestyle

  15. danny ray said on March 1st, 2009 at 1:52pm #

    I have it I have it, It wil be harder for some than others to go back to the land.
    As for me
    yes I am a pirate.
    two hundred years to late.
    the cannon don’t thunder,
    There’s nothing to plunder.
    I’m just an over fourty victim of fate

    Have a blessed day Tree 🙂

  16. Tree said on March 1st, 2009 at 1:57pm #


  17. danny ray said on March 1st, 2009 at 6:34pm #

    wingnut, I went to the web site you gave me, In the interest of the future of the earth I urge you to always reuse your tin foil hat. Please do not make a new one each day. we ned to conserve tin foil.

  18. Wingnut said on March 2nd, 2009 at 4:37am #

    Bash away, competitive ones. You’ll still need to get on-subject and deal with the issues raised, eventually. Elizabeth… interesting article. My apologies for commandeering its base subject and trying to illuminate the REAL problem with using economies. I’ll be going somewhere where children don’t shoot messengers for the message. Cya next time maybe. Wingnut