Help for displaced workers

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The Sun Journal’s March 3 editorial, “Unemployed? Or on vacation?” misses the mark.

The legislation in question changes Maine’s unemployment law so that workers do not have their unemployment compensation delayed if they have earned vacation pay on the books when they get laid off.

The editorial insultingly suggests that such a change would result in laid-off workers “double dipping” and “skimming more from the pool.”

The fact is that vacation pay is, just like wages, pay that workers earn before getting laid off. People have earned their vacation pay prior to getting laid off; it belongs to the employee and it should not be used to hold up the unemployment checks of workers trying to survive in difficult times.

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This bill was submitted because of complaints from numerous laid-off workers who were upset and very surprised to find out that their unemployment checks would be delayed three, four, five or more weeks because they had earned vacation time on the books when they got laid off.

Why should workers get treated differently depending on whether they have taken their vacations or not? If two people work at the same facility, both get laid off, and one has five weeks of accrued, earned vacation time remaining and the other person has none, why should one person have to wait five additional weeks and the other be able to collect right away? Different people use vacation differently and those who save it — or are unable to use it — should not be unfairly penalized.

We are currently facing the highest levels of unemployment in recent history with six people looking for every job. Many laid-off workers are counting on both vacation pay they are owed and unemployment to pay their bills, keep their home and stay afloat. Unemployment insurance is a crucial lifeboat — it should not be arbitrarily delayed.

It’s also worth noting that this legislation does not change the length of time that someone can collect unemployment; it only changes when they can start collecting. Most states do not penalize workers in this way. Maine is in a small minority.

These are not easy times, especially for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. This legislation is a small thing that the state can do to help out thousands of displaced workers in a time of transition. I hope the Legislature will pass LD 1626.

Matt Schlobohm

Executive director, Maine AFL-CIO

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