Episode 4 - Answering Your COVID-19 Pay and Benefits Questions
IBEW Local 613 Business Manager Kenny Mullins and President Kevin Swanson answer questions about accessing money from your pension, what to do if you're furloughed or laid-off, when you can expect to be paid, and other specific issues related to the COVID-19 crisis. If you're a member of 613 or any other Local Trade Union, you'll want to listen to this.
Kenny Except: If you get laid off, you switch from a furlough to a layoff, make sure the electrical contractor closes out your furlough claim so you can get your own employment as fast as possible.
Opening: You're listening to the Union Up Podcast, a podcast with conversations on issues facing business managers and local trade unions across the country.
Rut: During the COVID-19 quarantine, some construction sites have been deemed essential, others not. Some job sites are open, others are not. So what does that mean to the union members still on the job and to those being furloughed or laid off. There's a lot of questions from union members around rights on the job site, access to money, unemployment, etc. And today we're going to answer some very specific questions with part of the leadership team of one of the largest locals in the country, IBW Local 613 in Atlanta. And if you're in a different trade or a member of another local, you may have some of the same questions and want to talk to your leadership team. But today we're going to talk specifically about IBW Local 613 with Kevin Swanson, the president and Kenny Mullins, business manager of Local 613 guys, welcome. Thanks for joining me.
Kenny and Kevin: Thanks for having us. Good to be here, Rut?
Rut: So Kenny, first let's talk about the primary concern that's on a lot of people's mind, which is money. Is 613 gonna allow members to withdraw money from their pensions if they so desire?
Kenny: Yes, we are Rut. We're going to do coronavirus related distribution, a CRD. Our target date is April the 27th. That's going to be $10,000 for all the applicants. The reason that we shot for April the 27th and set that for the target date is we had to design new applications that will allow our brothers and sisters to have the 20% federal tax withholding waved and the 10% early withdrawal penalty are going to be waved also, it's going to be available until August 31st, 2020. So anytime between now and August the 31st 2020 a member be able to withdraw their money. One of the good things about the way we're doing this, there is no withdrawal, minimal for our CRD so if you're a fourth year apprentice and you want to get some money out, you'll be able to take some of your money out as well. And also the CRD is going to allow members to repay the money back up to three years if they would like to.
Rut: What is the process for your members to get the money and how much are they allowed to withdraw under the plan?
Kenny: They'll be allowed to take $10,000 as we always have done in the past. But what's so good about this time for the members that have to take it, it's anybody that's working, used to we did a termination distribution. You had to be on the books. Well, this go around that the federal government has allowed us to do the CRD. Anybody will be able to take their money out. They'll go online to ibew613.org and they'll go to the link where NEBA Inc. has their link, click on and all the forms will be loaded up to there. If you're single, you just fill out the form, get your money. If you're married, then your spouse, he or she will have to sign off on the distribution and have it notarized before you can get your money, but we will go to the NEBA Inc. Link on our IBW 613 go to forms and the application will be there for you to fill out.
Rut: So Kevin, a lot of people are anxious about their status during this time, this COVID-19 thing. Do you have an estimate of how many people you think have been laid off or furloughed?
Kevin: Well, Rut, right now, surprisingly we only have about 451 on book one as of this morning. We have had an approximately 100 people to our out-of-work list since beginning of March, but the book number total has not increased that much because we continue referring people out every week. As far as those furloughed, unfortunately we've only had about 224 people that have followed the process that's on our website ibew613.org, to notify Jeff Deppe and the information that he needs that are furloughed. Now we are guessing and anticipating that it's about three times that total is the amount furloughed, so we've probably got upwards of 1,000 people that are out of work right now.
Rut: What do you think is the better option being laid off or furloughed and why?
Kevin: Well at this point I would have to say that layoff, due to some of the employers are refusing to simply apply through The Georgia Department of Labor for the ones that they have furloughed. A reduction in force layoff with the applicable paperwork will be a lot less questionable than a furlough that you've got applied for yourself. So I would suggest trying to acquire a reduction in force, lack of work layoff, to start the process. If you are going to self-furlough, or not self-furlough but if you're going to have to file the paperwork yourself for the furlough, then I suggest strongly, we've talked to the lawyers, I suggest strongly that you list everything that applies. If, there's a lot of "ifs" in here, but any of this that applies, you make sure that you list it on there. One, you got to make sure that you list on there that your employer could not provide you work that did not present a substantial risk of exposure to COVID-19. If you are high risk or a house member is high risk or if you have a child like I do this out of school and you have to care for them. Or if you have a house member that has tested positive or a health care provider has advised you to self-quarantine, or you have a house or family member that you were providing care for that has tested positive.
Rut: So Kevin, how does this affect family health care coverage and eligibility?
Kevin: Well, every person's going to be different. It just depends on how many hours they have in their hour bank, how many hours they've worked this quarter. If they've had four quarters of eligibility. The best thing to do since everybody's situation is going to be a little different is to, they can go themselves to NEBAinc.com, and they create a log in if they haven't already, they can view their eligibility, their bank hours, as well as their reciprocity. But keep in mind that the hours are not real time so you're not going to see hours that you work last week or last month for that matter. It's about a two-month lag on that and any questions you have, you can call NEBA at (678) 705-0200 as well and ask them.
Rut: And I'll include that on the notes as well for anybody that's interested. So in terms of feeling unsafe on a job site, Kenny, can the members get in trouble with their contractors if they stay home from a job site? Or let me ask that more bluntly. Are members scared to stay at home from work for fear of being accused of a work stoppage? I know that sounds crazy, but I would think that there may be some guys afraid of getting accused of causing a wobble.
Kenny: You're exactly right, Rut. Our assistant business managers and myself, we've been getting phone calls from members asking that very question, is there any way they could be accused of trying to start a wobble or work stoppage. And the answer's No. I mean, we're in a global pandemic right now. And the top priority is everybody's safety. So if a member feels like they're unsafe, they need to take the precautions to rectify that problem. So no, there's not going to be any repercussions for that, but there are some members that are worried about that. We've been getting questions.
Rut: I want to shift gears for a second and talk about unemployment. Kevin, what is the process if somebody is looking to file for unemployment, what is the process to get unemployment?
Kevin: So during these times you have to do the application process online and you can do that dol.ga.gov that's our Department of Labor for George's website. Once you've completed that application online, make sure that you save that confirmation. You may be asked for that later. And then as I stated earlier, if I was having to file furlough for myself due to my employer not caring enough to complete it for me, I would most definitely make sure to list all that applies. If your employer cannot provide you with work that will not present a substantial risk of exposure to COVID-19, you're high risk or someone in your house is, if you have a child out of school that you have to care for him, if you have a house member that's tested positive or a health care provider has advised you to self-quarantine or you have a house or family member that you're had to provide care for, that's being tested positive. So, it's an online application. A lot of our members are used to the process. They've done it before. It's the same online applications that they would have you do if you walked into one of their offices, but their offices are just not open right now.
Rut: And that's available at ibw613.org as well. You guys have got the link there?
Kevin: To the department of labor? Yes, there is a link on that yet.
Rut: Have you heard how long unemployment has taken for members to get their first check?
Kevin: So from everything I've been hearing, it has been taken about four to five weeks. But that's probably gonna change as a number of people filing changes, whether it reduces or increases, the sheer quantity of people that's been doing it, which is a record amount. You know, nationwide, not just in Georgia, has caused for that delay, but it does backdate. So those that, those employers that are actually helping the workers and finding the furlough for them, it's been a little quicker than that. But at least within four to five weeks you said to have a determination.
Rut: Have any members received their $600 bonus for unemployment insurance that you know of yet?
Kevin: From what I understand this week the $600 has started hitting. Now everybody's may be a little bit different. My girlfriend, hers hit, and it back dated for the two weeks and everybody else, from what I understand should backdate as well. So if it takes several weeks for the process to start, once you get a determination in your approved, it should all backdate including the $600 and on the department of labor website for Georgia, they upload this week a notice regarding the $600. So I think it's just a matter of timing when everybody's is going to hit.
Kenny: Hey guys, I want to point out one more issue that I've dealt with. If you're on a job that's temporarily shut down and the electrical contractor furloughs you, say the job that has shut down, the anticipation time is longer than what they suspect, they postpone the job, and so then the contractor, the electrical contractor lays the member off; You have to make sure that the contractor goes into the department of labor and closes out your furlough claim, because if not, you'll have two claims open and you won't be able to get your unemployment due to having two claims and it looks like you have a fraudulent claim and an actual unemployment employee that works at the department of labor has to go in physically and log into the system and remove your furlough claim. And with all the claims that they're seeing right now, it would take that much longer for you to get your unemployment. So I have had to deal with that situation with a couple members. So please, if you get laid off, you switch from a furlough to a layoff, make sure the electrical contractor closes out your furlough claim so you can get your own employment as fast as possible.
Rut: That's good to know. So in terms of people being directly affected by COVID-19, have you, Kenny, heard any positive cases on any of the projects in Atlanta specifically?
Kenny: Yes, there has Rut. We've had a couple projects that have had positive cases of COVID-19.
Rut: With these jobs sites that are so dynamic, there's people coming and going. Different contractors on the job at different times. How has the membership responded when new people are showing up on the job?
Kenny: There is a lot of anxiety. It is one of the things that our members are concerned with, like we just discussed. There has been positive cases in Atlanta. So if you're on that project and you leave or you get laid off, you got to go back to work. Now the guys that come from another project to your job site, a new job, they're concerned, hey what if one of these guys comes off as a project where there was a positive case of COBID, and rightfully so. So yes, there is a lot of anxiety and a lot of concern with when a new person comes on the job. So we're trying to, as an administration and as a organization as a whole, we're trying to track these furloughs and monitor these layoffs as close as we can so we can have that data to be able to share with our members and to make sure everybody's safe.
Rut: This question is for both of you guys and I'll start with you, Kevin. Are the contractors working with you all during this time? I mean, has there been any conversation around appreciation pay or premium pay during such a hazardous work environment?
Kevin: My take, what it feels like seems like to me is every single discussion with these guys, it's either a battle for a simple item that we're trying to discuss or they're kicking the can down the road further. So that's my entire take, and Kenny I don't know if you want me to elaborate on the premium pay or not, but I'd be glad to.
Kenny: Yeah. Our contractors are working with us for the most part when it comes to site conditions and safety and PPE. As we all know, it's hard to get certain types of PPE but they've been working with us pretty good on that overall. They see that, you know, if we're going to be on that job we are going to have to have the proper PPE. Now at the point we can't get that PPE that becomes an issue. So we are working with them on that aspect. Now as far as economic compensation, that you're asking about, appreciation pay or pay for being on the front line, us here at local 613 drafted an MOU and gave it to the contractors to try to work with them and see what they wanted to offer our guys during this time if they would be willing to offer an appreciation pay. And it said, you know, first shift would be 120% and second shift would be 130%, and we were trying to minimize the time that you're on these projects if you have to be on them. So we was going for an eight hour workday to minimize the time on the project and anything over eight hours, we were seeking to get one and a half times. And this was just a starting ground to try to compensate our members and show them some appreciation for going out here in the communities and trying to get more beds and do what they feel is right in their heart and subjecting themselves to this danger. And of course, the contractors, we've talked about it a little bit, but they didn't come back with a counter. They just said, not at this time. They were not going to entertain the thought of MOU. And it's all new to all of us during this pandemic. It's one of those situations that none of us have ever experienced. It changes daily. So that's the answer to those questions. And we're doing everything we can to get through this. We're gonna get through it together. And I just want everybody to stay safe and take care of your families.
Rut: Kenny, what other things are you guys working on, on behalf of your members that you might like them to know about?
Kenny: Right now, we're excited to announce it in the next couple of weeks, our new website's going to come out, Rut. It's going to help our members stay in contact with us and with the current events and everything that's going on in the local. They'll even be able to browse our IBW 613 merchandise and it just a really good communication platform to be able to get information and keep them abreast of everything that's going on during this time. You know, we're all, every day we're preparing and, we're getting ready to head into negotiations. That's one of the things that's coming up. But just working for them every day for our brothers and sisters, trying to take care of them. And it's a blessing. We're glad to be able to do it. If y'all have anything going on, on the job, please let us know. We're hearing some rumors of contractors saying that, you know, people will need to supply their own N95 mask. I mean that's just, that's so absurd to me right now during this time. So things like that we're trying to combat for them and make sure that the members know the information, that that's not in our collective bargain agreement. That's PPE. So we're doing that everyday, for just different issues that pop up. Like I said earlier, none of us have ever been through this. Our partners have never been through it. We've never been through it. So it's times and it changes. We will all get through it together. It's going to take a little work. It's going to be some ups and downs. I really appreciate the members, their families and there's ever anything I can do for my brothers and sisters, I just don't want him to hesitate. I want him to give us a call and I know Kevin feels the same way and every assistant business manager down there working. We're just proud to be able to serve our brothers and sisters every day.
Rut: I appreciate you guys spending some time and taking this head on and I know your members do. If you are a member of 613, you can call the hall with any of these questions and these guys are on top of it as you can tell, and like I said, if you're in a different trade or you're a member of another local and you've got questions, I'd reach out to your leadership team at your local. Hopefully they are as responsive as these guys are, and you can reach Kenny and Kevin at (404) 523-8107. Thank you guys. Appreciate you joining me.
Kenny and Kevin: Thanks Rut. Have a good one.
Closing: You've been listening to Union Up, a podcast with conversations on issues facing business managers and local trade unions across the country. For more information on this podcast or to help your local grow, visit unionup.net