Unemployed workers, advocacy groups rally over unemployment system woes

Updated: Feb. 24, 2021 at 4:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scores of unemployed workers rallied in front of the state Department of Labor’s building on Wednesday before marching to the state Capitol.

The rally attendees urged the state to improve the outdated unemployment system.

The event was organized by the Hawaii Workers Center along with various community organizations and unions like Unite Here Local 5.

Although attendees said this rally is largely about fixing the broken Unemployment Insurance system, their message is also focused on defending and advancing workers’ rights, raising the minimum wage, exempting unemployed workers’ benefits from state taxation and more.

One of the group’s primary goals is pushing for the safe reopening of the DLIR office for in-person filing and user help.

John Witeck, a sponsor for Hawaii Workers’ Center said, “The DLIR says they’re afraid to open up because they’re too afraid they’ll be overwhelmed, but that’s a problem they created. And by keeping it closed, I think they just created a bigger problem.”

Sen. Brian Taniguchi, the Department of Labor Chairman said that the reopening of the offices raises safety concerns. “There are concerns about the number of people that would come, and it also creates, among the staff, some fear of coming to work if there are going to be all those people there.”

“Staff have not been vaccinated for COVID, so that’s another consideration,” said Taniguchi. “I think we don’t look at the sacrifices the staff people are doing right now.”

DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Estaquio says she still has no timeline for that, citing employee and claimant safety concerns.

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