Oregon unemployment-claims staff says agency not protecting them from coronavirus
In the past couple of weeks, tens of thousands of Oregonians have sought unemployment benefits with unprecedented urgency.
But the workers vetting those claims worry the Oregon Employment Department has not put strict enough measures into place to prevent them from getting the new coronavirus.
The agency operates call centers in Bend and Beaverton.
"We're not getting treated the same as the public and they expect us to help the public."
Workers there have been spending their days fielding a tsunami of requests from at least 76,000 Oregonians who have been laid off, or had their hours cut, as businesses shut their doors or scale back their operations.
Three workers spoke with the Statesman Journal on the record about their concerns.
"We're not getting treated the same as the public and they expect us to help the public," said Leslie Vincent, an adjudicator at the Beaverton call center.
Vincent's job is to determine whether people seeking unemployment benefits are eligible for them. There are about 90 adjudicators between the two call centers, she said.
Roughly 70 other people working at the call centers are specialists who answer the initial incoming calls from Oregonians seeking unemployment benefits, said Vincent, who is also a steward for her local union.
Those workers need to be in the office to answer calls, she said.
To address the high volume of claims, the state is also training tax auditors to process claims coming in on the phone and over the internet, Vincent said.
This Salem Statesman Journal story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.