Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Unemployment insurance has been a fiasco for many former Rocky Mountain News staffers

The following is an explanation of the unemployment fiasco experienced by many former Rocky Mountain News staffers. A few have been deemed eligible. Most have been told they're not eligible for a period of time because they received severance after the paper closed on April 27. I post this because I think it's important that people know things are never as simple as they seem. This was written by Melissa Pomponio, former unit chair at the Rocky for the Denver Newspaper Guild. If anybody has further information, please add it in the comments section. Thank you.

Prior to Feb. 28, 2009, the Rocky Mountain News staff reported on the state's thousands of unemployed. On Feb. 29, everything changed and we became a part of the swelling numbers of jobless.

We joined the flood of Coloradans drowning the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's unemployment division in new cases and questions. We've discovered that the process of filing for and collecting unemployment insurance benefits is as clear as mud. The rules and regulations governing the receipt of benefits is a rather thick missive wrought with finite definitions for words such as "severance" and "separation."

Our arrival on the unemployment scene coincided with the desire to streamline some of the definitions and rules for the receipt of unemployment insurance benefits. House Bill 1076, introduced during the last legislative session, grew from this effort. Among other things, the bill's intention was to merge the definitions associated with money employees received after losing their jobs. Without getting too complicated, prior to HB1076, a determination of severance would diminish the unemployment benefit by the amount of money received. A determination of separation or an other cash payment would generally delay the benefit for the week in which it is received and then restored.

We learned about the bill, and the governor signing it into law just as we were finishing the process of receiving our monetary settlement. As employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement at the Rocky, we entered into effects bargaining shortly after the closure of the Rocky. The goal was to tie up loose ends and effectively terminate the contract between Rocky employees and the Denver Publishing Co. (the Rocky) and E.W. Scripps (the parent company). In the process, we negotiated and received a monetary settlement in return for our signatures on waiver and release documents, the contents of which we are bound not to reveal.

Confusion about how this money should be treated in relation to our continuing unemployment insurance benefit claims continues six months after the closure of the Rocky. Some of us have received notice that our benefit will be delayed for a period of time determined by the amount of money we received. Some of us have appealed and won this decision. There are others who were never penalized for claiming the money and continue to receive benefits. There are still others whose unemployment benefits have ceased, but they have never received a notice as to why. It is unclear how HB1076 is affecting these decisions.

As journalists, we tend to ask a lot of questions and knock on a lot of doors. We've been fortunate to have a dedicated group of public servants working with us to resolve and clarify our cases. We are grateful for the involvement of Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo; Steve Fowler, head of the state's unemployment division, and his staff; Gov. Ritter's chief of staff, Jim Carpenter; and Don Mares, head of the state's Department of Labor and Employment in addition to many others willing to listen along the way.

As we continue to look for meaningful employment, our cases continue to be reviewed by state officials.

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