Waiting in the Unemployment Line

Waiting in the Unemployment Line

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I am standing in line for unemployment benefits. There must be between four hundred to six hundred others here with me. Everyone here is a locked out Steelworkers from the Kaiser Mead plant. I see many faces I know in the crowd. We are all here because the Washington State Unemployment office downtown cannot handle such a crowd. All the members were told by the Union that this was the day that we had to signup for a new benefit year.

Everyone was told to meet at the Carpenter's hall just off Division on Mission. The building is getting old and could use some maintenance. It is a cold dreary damp morning, and I am glad that I brought my coat along. The weather reflects the overall mood of the people in line. There is a lot of talking going on about what it is going to take to requlify for benefits. I think many fear that they will not receive any more checks from Unemployment.


This morning I got up early to make sure I could make it on time. The last time they locked the doors on the hour. This is the only day we have to do this, so I did not want to miss out. Without unemployment benefits, I would go under fast. This is true for most of the people in line. I don't think they thought this many of us would have made the mandatory $2,646. If they had used the same method for sign up that they used last October, this whole process would have been easier on everyone. Previously people with last names starting with A-H went at 9:00am, I-P at 11:00am and so on. This kept it from becoming overcrowded like it is today.


After about ten minutes someone comes out of the building yelling, "Go home if you have not made at least $2,800 since the benefit year started". The reason for this is because the state requires us to make six times our weekly benefit amount to be eligible for another benefit year. Of course no one let us know this until the benefits ran out in August. This left most steelworkers only a month and a half to make the money.

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I was fortunate enough to have had a part-time temporary job to make the requirement. Many of my coworkers were not. It saddens me to know that they are going to have a tough winter if this lockout does not end. Many complained about the holidays last year, no doubt this year will be worse.


This announcement causes about a third of the people to leave. Quite a few grumbling that they were told by the unemployment office to sign up anyway. Later that night, I found out that they were not supposed to tell the people that. The correct thing to say would have been that unless you had made the money the chances were slim that you would receive benefits. Most of the guys felt that the officials just did not want to deal with that many people. This was unprofessional on their part because after the 30th of September we lose the money we paid in while working for Kaiser. It will be sad if a couple of hundred people lose their benefits because of three lazy officials.


A lot of the people in front of me leave, so now I am standing just outside the doors. The officials are only allowing about a hundred people into the building at a time. They already have a full house so I wait another hour outside. The extra wait causes me to miss my first class, but without the benefits, I could not afford school anyway. The wait is worth the money; I'll make up the class work when I can.


I told my wife that it would be stupid not to go to school. With a family of four, the government pays me to go to school. When I was a single nineteen-year, old there was little chance for me to go to college. As a middle class white kid with a 3.5gpa I could not find much assistance. My father did not believe in college unless I paid for it all. Now I have no problem getting PELL and State need grants. This is because my income fell from thirty-five grand a year to twenty-two. Now I am statistically living in poverty. I find this kind of silly because when you get down to this level the State starts paying for a lot of the things I used to have to. My family actually has better benefits now than it did with Kaiser.


Now its eleven o'clock, and I'm finally inside the building. After two and a half hours in line, it is nice to sit down. They give us a quick overview of how to fill out the forms. The officials ask to see our social security cards and our pay-stubs to verify our income. If its one thing I have become good at it is filling out forms. That's one bad side of social assistance, all the paperwork.


I really appreciate the unemployment benefits that I receive. If I use my head I just might be able to get real job and a better education. On the way out I think about the guys that are going to miss out on this money. The winter is going to be hard for them. This really stinks because we have volunteered to unconditionally return to work. I feel that in this situation, Kaiser should have to shell out the money to pay our benefits as long as they keep us out. I wonder if they understand that many of us don't really want to go back at all. They must not understand that we won't wait on them. A lot of their employees are in college right now retraining for a better job.

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