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Program provides alternative to layoffs

Work Sharing partial unemployment benefits help keep people on payroll

Posted: February 1, 2009 10:18 p.m.
Updated: February 2, 2009 4:59 a.m.

Adam Wakefield, engineering designer at Hunsaker & Associates, plans ways to improve Imperial Highway in Lynnwood, Wednesday afternoon. Hunsaker & Associates is utilizing California's Work Sharing program, which cuts workers' hours and then combines their regular pay with partial unemployment benefits.

 
Evonne Feeder, an accountant at a Valencia civil engineering company, only works three days a week compared to the five she used to work. But she doesn't count the hours cut by her employer, Hunsaker & Associates in Valencia, a complete loss.

She receives partial unemployment insurance benefits from a state program that provides an alternative to layoffs during difficult economic times.

"You don't want to have to get your pay cut for any reason, but to keep the company going, that's what you do," Feeder said.

Hunsaker & Associates, a community developer of city buildings, roads and housing tracts, has had less contracts due to the poor economy and housing crisis.

As a result, it downsized from about 50 to 18 employees in the past year, most of the layoffs occurring during the spring.

To prevent additional layoffs, the company started utilizing California's Work Sharing program in May, which cuts workers' hours and then combines their regular pay with partial unemployment benefits.

In order to qualify for the program, employees must receive at least 10 percent cuts in hours and wages.

In return, they receive regular pay for the hours they work in addition to 20 percent of the weekly unemployment insurance benefits they would be eligible for if they were fully unemployed.

"Work Sharing is sort of a blessing to our employees," said the company's human resources administrator, Rochelle Walter, who added that employees get to keep their jobs and receive higher pay than if they were on unemployment.

It also boosts the company, which is able to keep its workforce for when the economy eventually improves.
"If we are able to keep a workforce in place that's knowledgeable to our business, then we are able to ... keep the momentum so that we don't have to cut back," she said.

"That's what the state figured when they proposed this program to begin with - keep the workforce in place and not put the small business people out of business completely, and then have the economy come back, hopefully."

While many employees are grateful to keep their jobs, they also say the program has its problems.

Certain workers have received month-long delays on their supplemental checks and have difficulty getting through to the state's Employment Development Department to follow up.

"At first it was a great idea to do something like that, but the delay from the time you don't work to the time you get the checks, it's really hard to handle," said Feeder, who received some of her checks three months behind schedule.

Feeder added that even after three days of calling the state's employment department, she was still unable to reach a representative.

The company's information technology manager, David Turrey, who also received delays with his checks, said the Work Sharing program is not perfect, but it is still a major help.

"The Work Sharing program is a good alternative to the state not having fiscal responsibility of so many people out of work completely," he said. "With the overflow, I don't really think it's anybody's fault ... I just think it's so overloaded right now with the influx of a lot of unemployed people."

The California State Legislature established the Work Sharing in 1978 as the first program of its kind in the nation, according to the Employment Development Department's Web site. In the midst of economic crisis, its use has more than doubled, reaching more than 2,800 employers last year, said Employment Development Department spokesperson Patrick Joyce.

Walter still thinks there are more businesses out there that could benefit.

"There a lot of companies that know about it," Walter said. "But then again, there are a lot of companies that don't."

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