A record number of statewide and South Sound businesses took advantage of a program in 2009 to offset the slower economy, and that record pace continues this year, a state Employment Security Department spokesman said Wednesday.
The ESD program is called Shared-Work. It allows businesses to cut the hours of their full-time employees, then allow employees whose hours have been cut by at least 10 percent to make up the difference with unemployment benefits, spokesman Bill Tarrow said.
Last year, 2,800 businesses and 51,000 employees used the program, up from 621 employers and 21,272 employees in 2008, according to ESD data. As of this week in Thurston County, 61 businesses and 511 workers were using the program. Year-over-year Shared-Work data for the county in 2008 and 2009 weren’t immediately available, Tarrow said.
Shared-Work applications continue to pour in, with the ESD receiving 10 to 20 applications daily, Tarrow said.
“We are forecasting continued growth at this time and are adding staff to keep up with the workload coming in,” he said. “We’re a huge advocate for the program, so we better be doing all we can to save the jobs that we have.”
Employment Security paid out $40 million in Shared-Work benefits last year; that would have ballooned by an additional $54 million had those workers been laid off and collected a state average of 17 weeks of jobless benefits.
ABC Printing owner Bob Kagy, who has turned his printing business into a 35-year-old Olympia institution, tapped the Shared-Work program last year for 16 of his 21 employees.
“I would say it’s helpful overall to keep them working and keep their benefits intact,” said Kagy about the program. The economy is showing signs of improvement this year, but business still is tight, and Kagy said he would use the program again, if necessary.
“Our goal is to keep everyone working as much as possible,” he said.
Shared-Work benefits are capped at 52 weeks, and businesses can apply for up to two successive years. However, if it’s warranted in this recession, the ESD commissioner can approve a business for a third year, Tarrow said.
Both public- and private-sector employees can participate in the program, and employers of all sizes are accepted, ESD officials said. The program will not subsidize seasonal employers, part-time employees, corporate officers or employees who are paid on a mileage rate, salary or commission.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403