Labor Department Screwing Unemployed By Not Answering Phones

The waiting area of the New York Department of Labor Office is getting increasingly crowded. It’s not just the economy, more people are showing up because they can’t get anyone on the phone.

One unemployed sheet metal worker said his attempts to get an error on his form fixed have proven fruitless. “I can’t get anybody on the phone,” he told NYC The Blog, “I go through all of the menu options and at the end I get to a message that says due to the high volume of calls no one is able to assist you.” Anyone who walks in is given a pamphlet with a number for them to call. The same number that no one picks up.

Visiting The Department Of Labor On 125th St. [NYC The Blog]


Edit Your Comment

  1. smythe says:

    Wow… If you have to spend all of your time fighting to get unemployment how the heck do they expect you to find another job?

    • BobbyMoon says:

      In California it has taken me 3 days of calling and calling before I actually get a live person on the phone. When you finally get somebody they act like you called and asked for their first born child!

    • donsolo says:

      @smythe: If only it were that simple… I wish everyone could live in your dream world.

    • TheGreenMnM says:

      @smythe: Unemployed in Georgia here. At least there are states fortunate enough to provide a number to call the unemployment office. Alas, there is not one here. Instead, we are expected to go TO the office and then wait for hours to speak with someone. I have had two calls from different people leave messages on my machine asking me to call them back. I have, over and over, they never answer. I leave a message and they have yet to call me back. It’s been a month… I gave up.

    • Anonymous says:

      @smythe: If you think somehow state government isn’t feeling the pinch of the economy,you’re mistaken. In most states, vacated positions are not being filled in critical areas of UI, social workers, and a myriad of other public service positions. Is there room for improvement? Without a doubt. But, the level of jobless claims and interactivity is stretching both human and IT resources to the breaking point accross the country. Expect it to get worse before it gets better…..

  2. TheFuzz53 says:

    Is anyone surprised? Your tax dollars at work as usual. These people have the life. Total job security, gold plated health benefits, tax payer funded pension for life and you don’t have to lift a finger during the job because “the company” or government is in the business of spending money, not making it.

    • sonneillon says:

      @TheFuzz53: It’s ok, I used to work for the government and it was ok. That’s it the pay was lousy the health plan wasn’t bad but not very good, the pension was nice but most people were moving to a 401k because it paid off better in the end on the plus side it’s very hard to get fired from a government job. A DUI was the only way I saw.

    • savvy9999 says:

      @TheFuzz53: Jealous much? Or just complain a lot?

      Funny, at various times of my life, I’ve had amazing trouble getting through and talking to a human at some of the biggest and supposedly “best” companies in the world– Dell, Sony, Toshiba, Canon, Mazda, Hilton.

      This is a lack-of-customer-support issue endemic everywhere and particularly apropros right now, not just a convenient opportunity to call all government workers lazy. But you will take that low-hanging fruit anyways.

      Again, are you jealous or simply a whiner by nature?

    • acknight says:

      @TheFuzz53: Not necessarily. The State of New York’s Employee Retirement System phone line has the same problem right now… and it doesn’t have district offices across the state.

    • sleze69 says:

      @TheFuzz53: It’s funny that we are hearing this type of sentiment on Consumerist when, in other threads, people are demanding government oversight and government regulation and private industry only thinks of money whereas a government agency doing the same thing would do a better job.

      Making generalities about ALL government workers based on examples from the Unemployment office or the DMV just isn’t fair. Use the post office as an example.

    • nursetim says:

      And yet people want the government to run health care.

      • formergr says:

        @nursetim: The government already runs a big old chunk of health care– it’s called Medicare. And they don’t do a half-bad job of it.

        • formergr says:

          @formergr: Also the VA. The Walter Reed situation aside, Veterans Health has better outcomes and is more efficient than any private healthcare in the country.

          • formergr says:

            @formergr: That should say “overall private healthcare” in the country, not “any” private healthcare. There are definitely instances of certain hospitals that have better outcomes than the VA, but in aggregate the VA beats private.

    • humphrmi says:

      @TheFuzz53: My mom used to work for the government. She processed order papers for soldiers shipping out to Viet Nam. If she got lazy (and I’m not saying she did) nobody every complained.

      I’m just sayin’.

  3. GoVegan says:

    I have heard the same thing from people filing for Unemployment Insurance in California. Some states allow you to file on line but it appears to be very difficult to get help on the phone. I am willing to bet that a lot of states have this issue.

    • Caprica Six says:

      @GoVegan: yea, we can file on line here, but good luck trying to speak to a human. When you do, they are rude and condescending sons a’ bitches!

    • nicless says:

      @GoVegan: It’s the same in MA. My fiance couldn’t reach anyone for over a week.

      • yo, naomi leon (nee captain_underpants) says:

        @nicless: same situation in your little neighbor to the south, rhody. my husband and father-in-law both tried for weeks to get someone on the phone to file a claim. i looked up the web page, saw you could file online, and helped both of them do it that way.

    • pgh9fan says:

      @GoVegan: I was unemployed for a while in PA. It was easy to file online and then get the $ direct deposited. Also, I never had a problem getting someone on the telephone.

    • Ajh says:

      @GoVegan: Wait. My state agencies have PHONES? Oh you mean that broken voice mail thing?

  4. MameDennis says:

    On the upside, I understand that you can see Major Major when he’s in!

  5. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    So, you’re saying the unemployment office may be hiring soon? SCORE

  6. Anonymous says:

    It’s impossible to get a live person on the phone. However, on the NY DOL’s website it suggested to call Thursday afternoons (that’s in a few hours) when there are fewer callers for some reason. I did that and it worked. Just a thought.

  7. Euglenas says:

    That may be the best, and most appropriate picture I’ve ever seen for a Consumerist post. Just awesome.

  8. tsume says:

    Same problem in California.

    You call them, sometimes upwards of 10 times a day… you can even take the shortcut of hitting 0 instead of wading through the options. The result is the same. Everyone is busy, and instead of spending the <$500 it would take to implement an asterisk box with a hold queue, you have to keep calling over and over.

    Sending an angry email actually does work here though.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I feel your pain. It was an ongoing saga with me.

    I tried calling them at 7:59am and they state that they are closed and that I have to call back during normal business hours, I call back immediately at and get through the generic menu within 8:00am. “Due to a high call volume we cannot assist you at this time, please call back later and try again.” CLICK.. dial tone……

    You just have to keep trying throughout the day, everyday.
    Eventually, you’ll get through.

    Anyways I did get rejected on my unemployment for close to 3 months until I went to a hearing. It turned out that the forms that I gave them were in color and they didn’t show up legible when they faxed it to headquarters. It almost feels like these people get commissions for rejecting applications. Finally I did get my 3 months of back pay, took lots and lots of patience.

  10. Anonymous says:

    It’s the same thing in California. We fought from early August until just last month to get my husband’s unemployment. They make you jump through hoops to prove who you are and once you’ve done that, they then set those hoops on fire and make you do it again.

    The only way to get through was to learn the different messages (the one that would cut you off immediately from the one that would let you navigate the maze of options) and sit hitting the redial button until you got the one you needed. Then you maybe had a 10% chance of actually getting a live person and then a 10% chance of that live person not being a total jerk. The nearest office is 45 minutes away.

    When we did finally get it all straightened out, they paid us, but they also inexplicably reduced his weekly benefit by nearly a third. Yeah, jolly holidays to you too.

    • dweebster says:

      @NevadaJahoob: If you can document the maze here that might be helpful to others who can learn from your wisdom.

      • ArcanaJ says:


        Actually, that comment up there is mine. I didn’t think I did the guest posting thing correctly so I registered and reposted. I yam a dork.

        Anyway, the problem with EDD in CA is that they ask you for proof of ID without telling you what’s really acceptable. They won’t take a copy of your SS card, for example, but they never seem to mention what *will* work as proof instead. Add to that the time it takes for them to process things (meaning you may not even know there’s a problem for a week or more) and difficulties in getting a real person on the phone to answer questions and you’ve got a recipe for weeks of petty frustration.

        My advice:

        1. Document EVERYTHING.
        Every phone call attempt, every email you send into the void, every piece of paper they send you, every conversation and with whom and what they tell you. Time, date, phase of the moon, EVERYTHING.

        2. Know that state agencies DO NOT talk to each other.
        DMV still tells you that that they won’t give you a new license just because you’ve moved and to write your address on the back of your old one. This is perfectly legal. EDD, however, doesn’t see it that way. If you move, then you should “lose” your old license and go get a new one with the new address.

        3. If you didn’t get one this year, request and keep on file a copy of your SS Statement. This is what EDD will accept as proof of your SS number.

        4. Know where last year’s W2s are.
        You will need one of these too.

        If you don’t, when it’s all finally settled, you won’t get paid for those weeks.

        Understand that you can appeal any decision they hand down, but your hearing won’t be scheduled until 8 WEEKS after you do so. That’s a long time to go with no money coming in. But if you manage to gather enough proof of who you are before that time, you can ask for a “redetermination”. To do that you will be sending copies of every scrap of proof (write your SS# on absolutely everything) and a nice, simple letter explaining what you require to:

        EDD ID Unit
        P.O. Box 2530
        Rancho Cordova, CA 95741

  11. geeky_reader says:

    All I see is “Labor Department blah blah blah” because I’m too busy looking at that awesome photo.

  12. SoCalGNX says:

    In California, the phone line will disconnect you so you can’t get thru because they are “too busy”. The real pisser is that there are about five different phone numbers – each for a different language (English, Spanish, Cantonese, Vietnamese etc.) When you call the English number you still have to press 1 to hear English. Wonder how much that alone contributed to Ahnold’s budget problems?
    They bungled sending out my first check. I could not get thru. I had to go to an office (not bad since I live near a lower traffic one). I then could use their phone which supposedly gets thru faster (not much). After five weeks of checks, I now am two weeks late getting the next one. So today I will go back down to the office to find out what’s going on.
    This is getting uglier by the minute for those of us who are unemployed.

  13. nevets68 says:

    I’m currently unemployed and have a out of state claim.
    It’s impossible to get in touch with the Claims office (the former state I worked in). You call their “easy call” number and it rings twice and hangs up on you.
    The website is utterly useless as there’s no “contact us” info at all.

    I literally try to ring the “Easy Call” number 30 to 50 times a day. 2 rings and bye bye. I once got through and received the message that due to “excessive call volume nobody can assist you” and , yes I get hung up upon.

  14. Anonymous says:

    My husband was laid off this past Monday, he has spent every day since getting the run around from the unemployment office in Kentucky.

    He tried to use the online system and he was unable to get his pin to work, he was told to go to the office, after waiting an hour in the unemployment line he was set in a private room with a phone and was told to dial a number, then the automated system went down and they told everyone the phones were no longer in service. He was then told to use the online system, once home he tried the website again only to find the online system was down too.

    He has tried calling for the past four days every hour or so, only once being able to speak to an operator and then she transferred him to a voice mail. This morning he has waited an additional two hours at the unemployment office and still has not been able to register.

    It’s unbelievably frustrating.

  15. jodark says:

    Sounds like our government phone services should be outsourced to India, since unlike most Americans, they have proper manners and aren’t growing moss due to inactivity.

  16. ArcanaJ says:

    It’s the same thing in California. We fought from early August until just last month to get my husband’s unemployment. They make you jump through hoops to prove who you are and once you’ve done that, they then set those hoops on fire and make you do it again.

    The only way to get through was to learn the different messages (the one that would cut you off immediately from the one that would let you navigate the maze of options) and sit hitting the redial button until you got the one you needed. Then you maybe had a 10% chance of actually getting a live person and then a 10% chance of that live person not being a total jerk. The nearest office is 45 minutes away.

    When we did finally get it all straightened out, they paid us, but they also inexplicably reduced his weekly benefit by nearly a third. Yeah, jolly holidays to you too.

  17. tripnman says:

    Perhaps this is why the AP report out this morning (New Claims Drop) is because no one can get through the phone maze to actually make the claim.

  18. postnocomments says:

    Some unemployment offices are very efficient at coming up with discrepancies to disqualify you but very incompetent to fix them. In the meantime people waste time the can use in things like finding a job. It’s all so counter productive.

  19. youbastid says:

    Yup, as noted before, CA is having the same problem. But in the past, you’d press 1,2,1,2,7 to speak to a live person, and sometimes they’d say the queue was too full and hang up on you. Now, the second they pick up, they say they are too busy and to go file online.
    The problem is my claim is filed, but I never received the claim form. Seeing as it has extremely sensitive info on it – full SS#, etc. – this is quite a cause for concern, and there’s no one I can ask about it.

    • ArcanaJ says:


      There are TWO messages. Get yourself a notepad and a cup of coffee and just keep hitting redial until you hear a different one from the “heavy calling activity” message. It will come up eventually.

      • youbastid says:

        @ArcanaJ: It did, and then as soon as I got to the regular line queue they disconnected me. I gave up. But luckily the form came today so all is well. Thanks though :)

  20. DH405 says:

    Here in Oklahoma, they’re bogged down but always helpful and are obviously trying hard.

  21. oregongal says:

    No problems for me to get my extension filed here in Oregon thank goodness. I did try to do it online Sunday after I received notice last week that benefits were extended. I did have to call every few minutes Monday morning to get thru but by 9:03am my call had been picked up. I did have to sit on hold for 23 minutes but the woman that answered was wonderful. She admitted that the website was ‘off a bit’ and then likened it to a temper tantrum lol. Took my info over the phone and thanks to Direct Deposit I got my check yesterday. Christmas is looking a bit brighter now.

  22. SoLovelyDarling says:

    I finally did get someone on the phone here in NY after three failed attempts and was told that I would receive an acknowledgment letter of unpaid wages after 10 WEEKS. Action on those unpaid wages are undetermined.

  23. Anonymous says:

    This happened to me, after their website wouldn’t let me certify for a week that i was still within the certification period for, and I tried every day to call, and eventually wrote in a letter contesting why I wasn’t able to certify and they rejected my claim saying I didn’t try in time and had no excuse.

  24. kwsventures says:

    The answer to the phone problem is pretty easy. Hire some unemployed people to answer the phones. Oh, California is almost bankrupt and can’t afford to hire enough people to handle the unemployment calls. Oops. Catch 22.

  25. effin says:

    My roommate is newly unemployed. His last THREE checks have not come in the mail, and he hasn’t been able to resolve it either. He spent 7 hours calling for info last week before he got through to someone. 167 calls before he could get through. They said they’ll try to help, but he still hasn’t received the checks.

    I wonder how people are supposed to look for jobs when it takes 7 hours to call about their check…

  26. ElizabethD says:

    Same in Rhode Island. My husband has been on the phone literally for hours some days, waiting for his call to be answered. They are going to add 20 more staff in the coming weeks.

  27. grimdeath9740 says:

    A previous co-worker of mine who was recently laid off said she was having the same problem. We’re in north texas.

  28. Marshfield says:

    Pretty soon it’ll be like this when you want to get your GM car serviced, once the Fed takes over domestic car production.

    And people are all excited about universal health care! Get ready for stories of people dying while on hold…

    No actual business could get away with providing such horrible service, only a government agency could (and can, and does)

  29. HooFoot says:

    I can sympathize. I work for my state’s welfare department and we are incredibly understaffed. There are entire days where the general phone line goes unanswered because there is literally nobody to answer the phones. Putting an employee on the phones would mean nobody manning the front desk or a work stoppage for the day because there is nobody to do the vital clerical work.

    The employees and upper management realize how FUBAR this situation is, but the state refuses to give us the money and permission to hire more help no matter how much we beg for it. So if you’re looking for someone to blame, blame the corrupt fools in your state capital who squander away your tax dollars on their pet projects instead of properly funding government services. The only way things are going to get better is if the public starts demanding answers from their local and state representatives.

  30. Anonymous says:

    My wife has the same problem. Has not been paid since early Oct. Been trying to get through on the phone daily since then (8 weeks now – no money). The labor dept says we can’t help – you need to call – even though you will never get through. Great system.

  31. HooFoot says:

    Oh, one more bit of advice people might find helpful. I can’t speak for all state agencies, but the times with the lowest call volume are between 3:30-5:00 in my office. The mornings are the worst and early afternoon isn’t much better.

  32. goldenmonkey says:

    I filed online. Even as you file it tells you that if you want to speak to someone you’ll probably have to go to the office as there is a high volume of claims being filed and it’s likely no one will be available to take your call. I tried to call anyway, but just got a general voicemail box. I wanted to ask what I’m supposed to do when the month comes up in which my child is due to be born. I’m so screwed.

  33. SuzieBee20 says:

    That’s how the California EDD is as well! Last year when my fiance was unemployed, when he started the new school semester, he had to mark that on his weekly form. When he did, the checks stopped coming. He never recived any notice as to why. It’s understandable they stopped paying because they needed to make sure he could still accept work full time while going to school (not a problem as it was two evenings a week). What ticks me off is that they never contacted him about it, they left us hanging and wondering. He called and the recording would tell him to call again. He would wake up early and call them as soon as they opened for hours on end with the same result. I even sat with him and we both tried calling day after day and it was always “too busy.” For a whole month, we never heard from them, he never received any letters or anything. He finally got through one day and they told him he had a phone interview the next week to determine if he could still draw unemployment. He got the letter in the mail regarding the interview… the day before the interview… Finally got all of the back pay checks, but it was so frustrating and stressful not hearing anything and not receiving any money for an entire month.

  34. Anonymous says:

    It is the same here in NJ! You wait on the phone for half an hour and they say “do to the high call volume……..” and then you get hung up on! What the hell is that! If the call volume is too high why does the machine answer, make you push buttons, wait, and then disconnect you after wasting your time! I went down to the local unemployment and no one there could help. They told me to keep calling back until I got through and everyone was complaining of the hang ups. Pathetic!!!

  35. Anonymous says:

    It’s the same here in Florida. Call and call and call and nobody picks up. The message says, “Due to high call volume, please try another time. Goodbye.” You don’t even have the option to wait. It just hangs up on you. I’m new to unemployment, never had to do it. But, recently got laid off from my job of 11 years. Good luck getting your first check. “Due to state laws, your first week will be held…” Okay? First wait 7 (business) days to process the claim, first week is held and still waiting on my first check. I got laid off on November 11th. It’s taking this freakin’ long just to get my first check will only be for one week. This process is ridiculous and cruel to people that need the money now. I’m totally flat-out broke from waiting a month (paying bills, etc) and about to starve. I own a car so I can’t get food stamps which would take another month. Bush had unemployment extended for 6 more months. However, how about having the process sped up? Want to create jobs? Hire people to do the paperwork on all this! Tough times requires you to get creative. Waiting a month or more is not good for people in need right now and the job market sucks! There are NO jobs open around here. It’s hard as heck to even get in McDonald’s. Many, many people at so many industries got laid off (including moi) because they’re moving to another country. Over 4 thousand jobs have been lost in the last 4 months around here. The other jobs besides desk and manufacturing are $7/hour jobs… part-time! How about hiring some help for that office… create jobs… and help US! Idiots in goverment never know what they’re doing. Help out Mortgage, credit card companies and automakers just so we get more credit to screw ourselves even further down in the hole? That’s a very big reason why we’re so screwed now. But, we need JOBS to pay back this credit or loans. How about helping US!?

  36. Anonymous says:

    The same exact thing happens when you call Social Security, I have called so many times the last few days, different times of the day and get the same result. I did get “transferred” to an agent and while wait for the next available agent their system hung up on me!! I tried calling back right away and got the lovely message again.

  37. Anonymous says:

    It’s the same way in Louisiana I have been unemployed two months and they just approved my unemployment I sat on hold for at least an hour everyday just to hear “u gotta wait” the people in the UI call centers are really rude when u do get a chance to talk to them.. I guess they think “well I got a job to bad u dont”…. I did all that fighting for unemployment and guess how much they gave me $98 a week thats horrible my bills are so behind I dont even have enough to pay my car note or insurance

  38. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like the court system when you demand that
    the IRS/U.N. make their presense known.
    Yes. If you can’t get an answer to a simple question
    or the computer sends you into an endless spin,
    It’s the United Nations/Fed/Federal Government, etc…

  39. Anonymous says:

    Same thing here in Massachusetts. Spent one whole day trying to do the phone with no luck. Next day went down to the office which is open until 3:30 p.m. I was told by two employees that it couldn’t be done that day (2:30 p.m.) and to come back before the office opened for a ticket at 7:00 a.m. the next day. As I am walking out it occurred to me that I was just told this by two employees who are stringing lights on the unemployment Christmas tree! How about helping people and maybe stringing the lights during their lunch hour? Unbelievable.

  40. savdavid says:

    True. Bush has had 8 years to fix this, why hasn’t he? I mean he is a fiscal conservative, no?