New York grocers have trouble hiring while workers are unaware of unemployment

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New York supermarkets are inundated with jobless claims – while most of them are looking to hire workers during the coronavirus shutdown, not fire them.Morton Williams, which operates 16 stores in the New York metropolitan area, was criticized with 400 claims at the height of the pandemic in March and April, ten times more than a year earlier, co-owner Steven Sloan told The Post. Throughout the month of June, claims rose to about 600, or about half of salaried workers, he said.

In addition, during this period, Sloan said that Morton Williams had only laid off three people as demand for groceries increased. However, at the end of May, more than 160 former employees were receiving weekly benefits accepted by the state, he said.

In the past, it was rare for the New York Department of Labor to pay a disputed supermarket claim and if they did, they would explain themselves, said Sloan.

This practice has changed with the coronavirus epidemic, he said.

“In three months, I have received no explanation as to why former employees are paid while I dispute their claims,” ​​Sloan told The Post. “So I don’t know what their reasoning is. I cannot challenge any of these cases if we do not know what the rules are. ”

Since the federal government’s CARES law pays $ 600 a week in addition to state unemployment checks, many grocers should earn more from unemployment than they would at the store. This has helped spur a tidal wave of claims, and the city’s grocers – who have been boasting of sustained activity since mid-March – say they are having a hard time coping with the situation.

“We see confusing statements from people who did not notify us of their departure,” said Sal Bonavita, owner of two Key Food stores in the Bronx. “We have not laid off anyone and yet we are seeing much higher volumes of unemployment claims. ”

“The benefits are a key reason why people are not applying at our stores right now,” he added. It usually has 16 employees but currently has eight employees missing.

The CARES law, passed by Congress in March, also provides benefits to workers who claim to care for a family member with COVID-19, or to those who are the primary caregiver for a child.

These changes – combined with federal stimulus checks for taxpayers – prompted some workers to take advantage.

Sloan said two young store clerks had recently applied for benefits, even though they were still working for Morton Williams. When confronted with a manager, they “admitted that they had applied for unemployment, saying they were told that if you deposit, you can get extra money,” said Sloan.

Steve Sloan, co-owner of Morton Williams supermarkets
Steven Sloan, co-owner of Morton Williams supermarketsJames Messerschmidt

In April, added Sloan, a cashier was fired for failing to charge a customer $ 200 worth of groceries and quickly started receiving state checks for $ 284 a week, despite the chain disputing the claim.

A Midtown office worker quit his job in March after telling his boss he was worried about his own health, citing the pandemic. He started receiving weekly checks for $ 341 – despite protests from the supermarket, Sloan said.

Indeed, workers who leave their jobs or are made redundant should not qualify workers for benefits, said Deanna Cohen, spokesperson for the New York Department of Labor, adding that “if someone twists their circumstances for get benefits, he commits fraud. ”

“We have a rigorous application and selection process to eliminate fraudulent claims and ensure that only eligible New Yorkers receive benefits,” Cohen said by email. “This system has not changed during this crisis.”

Adding to the confusion, organized crime networks have filed fraudulent claims on behalf of people who are currently working, according to reports. Sloan said that he had encountered the problem in a few cases where he had received claims for employees who had never stopped working and told him that they had not filed a claim.

“There is no indication from state governments on how the premiums will be affected,” labor lawyer Darren Oved of Oved & Oved LLP told The Post. “Unemployment insurance rates will almost certainly increase.”

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