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Las Vegas gig workers say ‘no communication’ coming from DETR

Independent contractor Patrick McLean woke up early to call the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation on Monday, the day the agency said gig workers would be able to speak with the department’s adjudicators to receive help with issues holding up their unemployment insurance claim.

He dialed a call center dedicated to helping claimants like him when the phone line opened at 8 a.m. but heard a busy signal.

Adam Kowalskii called a number he found on his determination letter sharing what he is eligible to receive. He, too, heard a busy signal.

Others tried calling a different number, one for traditional filers, each guessing at the “right” number to call.

Many of Nevada’s gig workers, independent contractors and self-employed workers trying to receive unemployment benefits say they are frustrated by the information — or lack thereof — coming from the agency and feel like they can’t catch a break. Some claimants have become so frustrated they’ve organized a protest.

“There’s no communication, no transparency,” Kowalskii said.

Kowalskii and others called Monday despite the fact that the website still said the “PUA Adjudication Center will not be active or available to take telephone calls until 6/01/2020.” PUA refers to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which makes independent contractors, self-employed workers and gig workers eligible for unemployment benefits.

“I thought (DETR) was going to pay first and adjudicate later,” Kowalskii said, referencing DETR Director Heather Korbulic’s reported comments. “I get this is a new software, but we’re going off your words. But you keep changing it. You keep pushing the goalpost down.”

Waiting game

Korbulic said Friday that filers whose claims need to be adjudicated will receive updates and notifications about the process in their account mailboxes on the EmployNV website.

Spokeswoman Rosa Mendez confirmed on Monday that individuals will be contacted directly, similarly to how regular filers receive adjudication notices directly from DETR. She said they should contact the main PUA call center at 800-603-9681 for any issues.

Kowalskii said he discovered a different phone number on his determination letter, which claimants receive after filing their initial claim.

He first tried calling the number last week after filing his weekly claim to “make sure everything is right.”

“I got through to someone, and they’re like, ‘Hello?’” he said. “He was a technician (and) said this line is not going live until (June) first and sorry, they shouldn’t have put the phone number on my determination letter.”

Kowalskii said he still tried to call the adjudication phone number on Monday, despite Korbulic’s Friday message to wait for directions from DETR. He said he hasn’t received any communication from the office, noting that his claim shows an “unresolved issue” but no additional details outlining what is wrong.

Meanwhile, McLean has tried to call both the adjudication phone number he spotted online and the main PUA call center.

He said he began calling the main PUA call center as soon as it opened at 8 a.m. Monday. He estimated he’d called about 20 times as of 2:30 p.m., but the best luck he had was a 30-minute hold period. Then nothing.

“It said, ‘All agents are busy; call back in a few minutes.’ Click,” McLean said.

He’s frustrated with the process. When asked his feelings on DETR communication about the PUA adjudication process, he replied: What communication?

“No way to leave a number and have someone call you. There’s no email abilities, no chat on the website. How do I communicate?” McLean said.

Taking action

Some claimants are finding a more public way of voicing their concerns.

Las Vegan Nie Schweigen helped organize the small protest outside the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, 555 E. Washington Ave., on Monday morning. She’s also organizing what she hopes is a larger protest at the Fountains of Bellagio on Thursday night.

While DETR touts success stories, a number of people are still struggling to acquire financial aid, Schweigen said in a text message interview. She asked to do the interview by text so she could keep her line open to call the PUA center.

“We’re on the verge of eviction, losing cars. We haven’t been able to pay our utilities,” she said.

Schweigen said she and her husband have called the main PUA line a number of times, and agents have told them to wait for the special adjudication line to open.

DETR told claimants last week that it was training staffers from the third-party Alorica call center to adjudicate PUA claims and would be ready June 1.

“My husband is on call 26 right now,” she said at 4:20 p.m. “All we want are direct answers, solutions and to be paid.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the phone number of the PUA call center.

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter. Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Mike Shoro contributed to this story.

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