Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mother of Five vs. Pa. Unemployment Board

There will be a hearing this morning for Amy Volciak, the Media mother-of-five who lost her unemployment earlier this summer over what appears to be a bureaucratic snafu.

I wrote about Amy a couple of weeks ago. (That column can be found here.) Not only was she told by the state that she was being dropped from its unemployment roles, she was also told that she had to pay back the $4,600 in compensation she'd received since December.

Over the last two months she has spent hours on phone and written everyone she can think of to help her rectify the situation. Efforts by State Rep. Tom Killion's office were only slightly productive.

While it had been suggested to her that she take a lawyer with her to the hearing, she couldn't find one on such short notice or who would represent her without getting paid upfront.

Instead, she will have me, a sorry substitute but the price is right. I'll report back how it went this afternoon.

CORRECTION: Alert readers will see that Amy's first name is oddly misspelled in my column. That's how it came in on the original email she sent me (her way of making it distinctive) and, of course, it stuck. My bad.

UPDATE: Filed my column for tomorrow about this. I sat through an hour hearing in front of state unemployment referee Tiffany McMaster. She explained to Amy - in fairly blunt terms - that she was not empowered to overturn any decision by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, though she also explained that Amy probably wouldn't have to pay back any of the money she was given because the board ruled that she didn't do anything fraudulent to get it.

McMaster, a graduate of Academy Park High School and Manhattanville College in New York, has been a referee in the state system since 2007. She made it clear she didn't want to hear a lot from Amy about her case. Her hands, she indicated, were tied by law. But her explanation of things was pendantic, officious and borderline obnoxious until late in the hearing when she at least voiced a little understating and sympathy to Amy's plight.

"If I were sitting in your shoes I wouldn't like it either," McMaster said.

For her part, Amy was unfailingly polite and grateful for any chance to explain what happened in her case and why she thought it was wrong and unfair. She didn't get much of one. And in the end it was clear there was basically nothing McMaster could do for her.

After the hearing, Amy had to go to her part-time job. She said PECO had sent her a shut-off notice and her payment for her van was overdue.

I called Media employment attorney Ron Surkin and told him about Amy's case. Based on what I told him, he wasn't optimistic about a positive outcome. He said she didn't have a "chance in hell" of getting the board to overturn its decision without being help from a competent attorney. But they cost money and Amy doesn't have any. So there.

UPDATE II: My print column is up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

She is not alone! I too went through this with PA Unemployment. I'm sure that there are many others out there also! They said I owed almost $5,000! I couldn't find a lawyer who would help me. I took my husband with me. The referee had overturned the decision. The next week I received a letter informing me that the referee was incorrect in making that decision! I appealed again. Got the same referee. We questioned the referee about different offices making decisions without consulting the other. We were informed that PA Unemployment was understaffed. I asked with all of the people that are searching for jobs, why couldn't they be hired. The response ... "It's not in the budget". Got a letter to say that I was granted a waiver and did not have to pay anything back. A few days later another letter saying that they were reviewing everything again and that I would be notified when a decision was made. Another letter came and stated that I was granted a waiver. Someone really needs to investigate PA Unemployment.

August 30, 2011 at 10:16 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no question about the PA Unemployment Compensation system---It is seriously flawed and need to be fixed. As an employer, it is a coin toss between which is worse---the PHRC or the PA UC Board. For the most part their local "hearing officers" are lawyers who think they are real judges, who treat employers like dirt, who accept lies from employees scamming the system. But then they have the blindness, judging by Amy's situation, to have equal fury against a person who really is trying to play by the rules. One of the problems in this situation is that the employer is off the hook. So if they admit that she should not have to remit the benefits she received, they (the PAUC Board) would be on the financial hook. One can only wonder why our elected Representatives and Senators don't recognize the problem and get to the heart of it...

August 30, 2011 at 7:55 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2 is absolutely correct. So please pay attention Rep. Killion, Rep. Adloph, Sen. Pillegi, Sen. Erickson, and our other elected officials. When push comes to shove, unemployment in our Commonwealth is not going to come down until employers can get fair treatment.

August 30, 2011 at 7:58 PM 
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