Laid-off workers filling career offices

Unemployed residents waiting for hours for help after state closes call centers

State unemployment layoffs have caused a ripple effect at regional job offices, with laid-off workers waiting hours each day to make phone calls and offices in some counties reportedly swarmed by frustrated crowds.

Since the state Department of Labor & Industry closed three unemployment call centers — including one in Altoona — and laid off hundreds of workers who handle unemployment claims, Pennsylvanians seeking benefits have faced hourslong waits and busy signals.

Those problems now extend to local CareerLink offices, where laid-off people wait in lines and lobbies to use special phones that provide quick access to help.

“We’re talking to people waiting two, three, four hours for the phone,” said Sara Goulet, press secretary for the Department of Labor & Industry. “The volume of calls each week has been in the millions.”

Unemployed workers filing for benefits or seeking help usually call one of two ways: from home through a toll-free number or through a special CareerLink phone that takes callers directly to the front of the line for help. The line for most CareerLink phones was small or nonexistent before the call centers closed, said Dann McDermott, the shop steward representing laid-off union workers at the Altoona center.

Now, he said, workers face long lines and hours waiting just to get a chance for a call.

“There were literally probably 25 people sitting there,” he said of a recent visit to a central Pennsylvania CareerLink office.

While the offices — privately run with state funding and supervision — help connect workers to employers and job training, they also serve as a direct connection for unemployment benefits.