To: Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts
Attn: Senator Brian Taniguchi, Chair, and Committee members
Hawaii Workers Center Testimony for February 3, 2021, Confirmation hearing
Opposing GM504, Confirmation of Anne Perreira-Eustaquio as DLIR Director
The Hawaii Workers Center (HWC) is a resource and organizing center which addresses the issues and concerns of low-wage workers and immigrants. For the past 6 months, we have been publicly advocating for unemployed workers, urging the DLIR to reopen its unemployment offices and provide safe, direct, in-person services for the thousands of workers who have been furloughed or permanently laid off since March 2020. Given the poor condition of DLIR’s archaic mainframe computer, the difficulty of submitting a claim, and the department’s failure to be responsive to claimants’ emails and phone calls, direct servicing is urgent and essential.
We have met twice with DLIR Director Perreira-Eustaquio, conducted news media conferences, launched a petition to the Governor, and held several peaceful demonstrations to urge that the DLIR Director and state officials to reopen DLIR offices so that unemployed workers can be served directly, get assistance as needed, and receive answers to their questions. It was pointed out to her that banks, pharmacies, groceries and other businesses had instituted ways to serve customers safely and directly and not closed their sites to the public.
The Director responded by expressing concern about exposing her staff to Covid, but said DLIR would examine ways to provide for safe, direct services in the future.Yet nothing was done to implement this. She also said DLIR had already made contracts to update the computer system but months later, very little has been done and thousands of workers are left without assistance. And DLIR’s call center efforts have been laughable though very painful to those frustrated in trying to get resolutions of their claims and assistance. Many have also received no answers to their emails. This failure of DLIR to respond and communicate adequately is deplorable and inexcusable.
The Century Foundation, a think tank, used data from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on May 27 for state unemployment payments for the month of April, in addition to weekly DOL and ongoing releases of Treasury data, in order to take a deeper dive into Unemployment Insurance. Their research revealed a heartbreaking discovery that unemployment benefits were only paid out to less than 1 in 3 workers by April1. Unfortunately, the only numbers the public can really seem to get through DLIR’s website is how much money is being given out, but we have yet to truly figure out how many people are being left behind during a time when Unemployment Insurance remains vital to the livelihoods of our families. This lack of transparency and accountability must change now.
In a more recent interview, the Director said she was not worried about exposing her staff to the pandemic but was concerned that the DLIR would be overwhelmed by the number of unemployed persons submitting claims or seeking answers or assistance. Yet it was the ineptness of her department that created the problem of thousands needing to file claims and get timely responses and assistance.
We believe the DLIR Director has not been honest, transparent, responsive, compassionate, or fair to UI claimants and their advocates. She has steadfastly refused to allow for direct services and assistance to unemployed workers. For this reason, we believe she should NOT be confirmed as DLIR Director since she and DLIR have so grievously failed in their responsibilities to unemployed workers and the public and have caused a great amount of unnecessary suffering and anxiety. She should not be confirmed by the Senate to remain DLIR Director. Please do not recommend her nomination to the full Senate.
Submitted by Rev. Sam Domingo, John Witeck, and Jun Shin of the Hawaii Workers Center
Phone Number: 808-255-6663