June 10, 2020

On the Job: Retesha Thadison

Illinois Department of Employment Security, Local 2971

From March 1 through May 9, 2020 AFSCME members at the Illinois Department of Employment Security have processed 1,076,461 claims for regular unemployment benefits—more than 11 times the number of claims over the same period in 2019.

"It’s been very stressful, because this pandemic hit all of us. Honestly, it’s a struggle. I’ve been with IDES for 17 years and this is unprecedented, the volume of claims we’re getting. And it affects your work and home life because you’re trying to juggle so much.

"I’m so tired from the work day and I’m trying to make sure my daughter is doing her schoolwork and I can’t assist her because I have to come to the office. I’m a rollercoaster of emotions. Some days I’m really positive and there are other days when I’m really just worn out.

"We want to do everything we can for the claimants—and we’re trying—but there are tens of thousands of claims and you’re going, going, going all day and doing so much and at the end of the day you feel exhausted and you feel like you didn’t accomplish anything because the numbers don’t go anywhere. You could do 100 claims and at the end of day you still have the same number you started with. It’s overwhelming. The need is so great, I just try and work through it as best I can.

"At the same time, we know it’s a difficult time for the claimants and the business owners. The claimants have abruptly lost their jobs and they’re trying to figure out how to make ends meet and feed their families, but the lines are constantly busy and they can’ t get through, or the system crashes and they can’t get their claim filed online. They can’t get to an office and they don’t realize what’s happening on our end.

"I have a lot of amazing co-workers. Some have expressed that they’re taking it personally how we’re being portrayed negatively in the media. The public has no idea how hard we’re working. We’re putting in hours of overtime, working Saturdays and coming in early for our shifts. Working overtime is hard, my daughter is FaceTiming me, asking me, "When are you coming home?"

"Our office is in Champaign.  I’m an adjudicator, so I conduct interviews with the claimants and employers, do the fact finding and issue determinations for eligibility.

"AFSCME has been involved a lot, trying the best they can to get the agency to allow as many of us as possible to work from home instead of coming into the offices. Initially, when the pandemic first started and offices were closed to the public, we had an issue where we didn’t have the hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes we needed. The union was instrumental in getting us the PPE and necessary supplies to keep us safe and our workspace disinfected. That’s been a big help.

"I’m tired. I’m feeling worn out. But at the end of the day I’m very dedicated to my job. I know what I’m doing is important to the community and I know what I do makes a difference. That helps keep me going and allows me to set a good example for my kids. I’m showing them that even when you’re tired, you have to put your best foot forward and do the work for the benefit of everyone; have empathy for other people and do what you can do help them in their time of need."

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