Business

State helps if hours get cut

Between January and June last year, the Washington Employment Security Department’s Shared Work Program served 218 employers in 13 sectors.

Between January and June this year, the program served 1,921 employers in 18 sectors.

Shared Work offers employers a way to retain employees by applying for a special type of unemployment insurance benefits.

Employees who become eligible – with hours temporarily reduced by 10 percent to 50 percent – can receive partial payment through ESD without leaving their jobs and being forced to look for work elsewhere.

For 2009, as of June 27, 39,864 workers had received program benefits totaling $17,798,965.

The largest number of participants came from King County (15,254), followed by Snohomish (6,580) and Pierce (4,898). In Thurston County, 374 employees had benefited.

The maximum benefit is $470 per week.

Employers must apply for the program, which is administered between employers and the state. Employees do not report to the state agency, nor can they individually apply for benefits.

For more information, contact the Shared Work Program at 800-752-2500 or online at esd.wa.gov/business.

The News Tribune spoke recently with Bill Tarrow, business and minority outreach manager for the Employment Security Department, and Bill McDonald, manager of the agency’s Shared Work Program.

Is there a simple overview of what “shared work” is?

Tarrow: What the program does is allow an employer to reduce the hours of employees by a certain percentage, and employees can recover some money. The program can adjust to whatever the employer needs to do. In one week, there can be a lot of job orders. The orders may be cut the next week. If you’re an employee, and you’re laid off, you have a mandatory job search. In shared work, you don’t have to search. The employer keeps workers, and the employees are not fully laid off.

McDonald: It’s strictly a voluntary employer program. Ninety-eight percent of the applications are from private industry .

There’s no limit on the number of employees, from thousands down to one.

Where does Washington fit nationwide with its shared work program?

McDonald: There are 18 states with a program. My sense of Washington’s place – we’d be in the top three in terms of volume, both of employers and employees. … Manufacturers have been the largest sector we serve.

Tarrow: We’ve made a concerted effort to get the word out. We’re going to ramp up, partner with business associations, chambers of commerce, do e-mail blasts and articles in newsletters. One of the big differences with this recession – it’s filtered down to all sectors.

Why should an employer apply?

McDonald: We have an employer survey. (One factor) is business preservation. The program can assist businesses in staying operational. An employer can retain a skilled work force. They may not have to do full layoffs, so they won’t have to recruit, hire and retrain workers. If an employee is laid off, they could seek other work.

Tarrow: It helps them stay afloat in tough times.

Do you deal with employees directly, or is it within the company?

McDonald: A representative from the company. We send them a packet of information. In some cases I’ll do an on-site orientation. I also do conference calls. It’s up to us to train them. We send them a lot of information to read.

They deal exclusively with someone from the shared work program. They don’t deal with the (ESD) tele-center.

Are all employees eligible?

Tarrow: This program is intended for 40-hour-a-week, not salaried employees. We have been working on a program for salaried employees, so they can participate.

I see you’ve moved some of your operation in the program to new quarters. Are things busy?

McDonald: We’d been working with six or seven staff in a non-recessionary period. I’ve had to beef it up to 20, just because of the state of the economy. This (workload) has been quadrupled in this period from what it was after 9/11. I thought at the time we’d never see that again. I was wrong. When this tsunami started we saw traditional sectors come on board, now we’re seeing a lot more affected businesses.

How many applications are you getting for the program?

McDonald: Statewide, five to 10 applications a day.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535

c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.com

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