How’re we doing? NJ touts efforts on unemployment claims and worker’s rights
Ever since the pandemic began in March 2020, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development has come under heavy criticism by some residents and lawmakers for what many have described as a terrible mismanagement of the state’s Unemployment Insurance program.
As 2023 gets underway, the DOL is touting its customer improvements over the past year, and reaffirming its mission “of providing opportunity, stability and dignity in mind.”
Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said his Department and the entire state “was knocked off its axis in 2020, but New Jersey has seen an incredible recovery in the past year.”
He noted the Garden State “has enacted stronger worker protections, including a higher minimum wage, paid sick days and expanded family leave. While alarmist naysayers insist enhanced worker protections lead to layoffs and business closings, the real data is clear: It is because of – not despite – these proactive measures that New Jersey is among the Northeast leaders in year-over-year employment growth."
More improvements this year
The Labor Department says it will improve the self-service claim status page, the new claimaint intake application as well as email and paper notifications this year.
Regulators also promise to turn their gaze to industries with a "history of noncompliance with existing laws and on those whose employees are less likely to file complaints with the Department."
The Labor Department says unemployment claims are now at about pre-pandemic levels but it did acknowledge that it is still working through many unresolved claims.
Officials said 60,000 people have been able to resolve "lingering issues" at the One-Stop Career Centers that resumed in-person services in the spring.
The new unemployment application, meanwhile, reduced the amount of time it takes to complete by 47 minutes, officials said.
Claims processing for temporary disability and family leave insurance benefits have decreased by 50% since January 2022.
The Office of Compliance Enforcement collected $3 million in penalties last year.
Equal treatment of employees
The state collected a record $100 million payment from Uber and Raiser Inc. in 2022 as a result of the ride-share companies misclassifying nearly 300,000 drivers.
The Division of Wage and Hour and Contract Compliance issued 85 stop-work orders and debarred 31 contractors, meaning they cannot be awarded public works contracts.
Regulators assessed $1.74 million in penalties on behalf of 1,755 workers who had been misclassified by their employers.
Chipotle settled a child labor litigation for more than $7.67 million and will have to conduct audits and train supervisors for three years.
The Office of Public Safety and Occupational Health and Safety began inspecting beach patrols as a result of two lifeguard deaths in August 2021. Inspectors issued 32 Hazard Awareness Letters on boat or lightning safety, 26 Orders to Comply, and 73 total violations relating to boat hazards, boat certifications, lightning policies and recordkeeping.
Future of workers
Since 2018, the state has added 563 registered apprenticeship programs and saw nearly 12,700 apprentices get hired.
Among the $28 million in apprenticeship grants, $8.9 million went to the health care sector, which has been in serious needs of workers.
The Cannabis Apprenticeship Training Initiative was awarded $325,000 last month to help cannabis businesses.
David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at email@example.com
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