When the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council last met on 21 October 2021, not much was decided or even reckoned with.

Other than the trust fund balance being $963 million and approval of a draft UI bill, LRB 4438 (unchanged from what was introduced in the September 2021 meeting), nothing much was discussed or decided. Council members even decided to cancel their remaining meetings for November and December.

The big news was that Mark Reihl, UI division head from before the pandemic started, announced his retirement, as of early November 2021.

The pattern continues into 2022, when the council met on January 20th.

Job centers need to be open to the public

A letter from a resident of the southern Lake Winnebago area about job centers being closed to the public and how public libraries are inadequate was met with a reference to how Wisconsin libraries received a grant to do advertising and additional support for job support services at Wisconsin libraries. Ignored in this response is the actual complaint in the letter about how job search support at libraries is inadequate and not meeting the Department’s statutory responsibility to provide support at its own job centers. Furthermore, the confusion and inadequacies of the on-line claim-filing system makes turning to librarians extremely difficult — both for claimants and librarians — when unintentional claim-filing mistakes lead to concealment charges from the Department.

Covid-19 is perhaps worse now than when the pandemic started. But, if job search requirements and claim-filing are to continue pretending that the pandemic does not really exist anymore, then the least the Department can do is open its job centers so that claimants can get the help they actually need. I know that people are leaving jobs because some (maybe more than some) employers are ignoring safety standards and pretending the pandemic no longer exists. The Department is making things worse for claimants struggling in this atmosphere by pushing claimants to on-line only claim-filing, and ill-equipped librarians who do not understand all the complexities and confusions of the on-line claim-filing process is simply asking too much of people who are not directly involved.

For instance, the Department’s job search requirements are quite specific, and many actions people think as qualifying as a job search do not actually qualify. Unless the Department is going to demonstrate how it is training librarians about how to assist confused claimants with understanding the Department’s very specific job search requirements (let alone all of the other “issues” that can catch claimants into making mistakes), then saying talk to a librarian is little more than Calvinball.

Financial report

The unemployment trust fund is back over a billion (indeed, $1.1 billion). Left unremarked on was that in 2021 payment of regular unemployment benefits plummeted to nearly one-third of what was seen in 2020: $583.1 million versus $1,464.7 million. Given that the pandemic still exists and that employees — even in Wisconsin — are leaving jobs at record numbers in 2021, this startlingly drop in payment of regular unemployment benefits indicates that many of the old practices at the Department are re-asserting themselves.

Job searches, as noted above, are extremely difficult to complete to the Department’s satisfaction. Furthermore, all claimants will have their job searches eventually audited (claimants must keep their job searches for one year, and Department staffers tell me that they are under pressure to make sure every claimant gets some of his or her job searches audited within that one-year time frame).

New faces

Jim Chiolino, a mainstay in all kinds of Department operations for the last several decades, is now head of the UI division. Tom McHugh, treasurer of the unemployment trust fund, retired as of January 10th. He will be missed.

Also, Kathy Thornton-Bias joined the council as a management representative for non-profits, replacing Theresa Hillis from the Eau Claire YMCA.

New rules

EmR2125 for waiving benefit charges related to pandemic job losses and for compensating reimbursable employers for their pandemic-related job losses (reimbursable employers like non-profits and government entities pay dollar-for-dollar for unemployment benefits paid to their former employees) continues to be in effect until March 2nd/April 24th of this year.

The Department presented Council members with a highly technical rule change for switching Wisconsin’s regulations from the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) industry classification codes to North American Industry Classifications System (NAICS) industry classification codes — the stuff that labor economists dream about — as well as several other technical changes and corrections.

After caucusing, Council members approved of this new rule.

The Labor and Industry Review Commission also presented to Council members the Commission’s proposed new rules. These proposed rules mostly update Commission procedure in light of all the procedural changes to unemployment law the past few years as well as some less extensive changes to workers’ compensation law during these past years. The only change of note in the unemployment context is that answers to petitions for review in unemployment cases now need to be filed in 14 days rather than 21 days. As answers are rarely filed and usually unnecessary, this change does not raise major concerns (unless increasing delays in mail service make the 14 day window unworkable).

New laws

There was a short presentation on AB691, a bill that would declare that the required use of any safety equipment could not serve as evidence that an operator of a motor vehicle (yes — any motor vehicle, not just truck drivers) could be classified as an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation law, unemployment law, minimum wage law, and wage law. Yikes.

Finally, after caucusing, Council members provided their stamp of approval on two other LRB drafts of the agreed upon bill, LRB-5584 and LRB-5585.For what these bills do, see Advisory Council meeting in August 2021. After caucusing, Council members approved of these draft bills.