Needed on the phones? Really?

One more story about the state's department of Labor and Industry closing its unemployment compensation service center in Philadelphia... another one that is just replete with irony.

Maybe you saw the story in Wednesday's Inquirer -- the news that 75 or more people who process unemployment claims and answer the phones for the laid off will lose their jobs as of Aug. 15. None of the other eight centers in the state will be closed. The state says unemployment claims are down, which is true. The employees were told that rents are too high at their Northeast Philadelphia offices. 

I interviewed Kathy Jellison, who heads the Service Employees International Union Local 668 -- the union that represents many of the state workers in the office. She was in the office Monday when the state government officials made the announcements. She said it was one of the worst closing announcements she has ever seen. Her people, she said, were in shock, truly distressed by what they had heard. That's no surprise.

What happened next is the ironic part. After the supervisor talked, Jellison asked the officials to leave the room so she could try to talk to her members and calm them down. The officials willingly complied. But then, after a little while, they kept coming back and asking her when the workers could return to the phones.

"She needed people back on the phones," Jellison said. "That doesn’t make any sense to me. You are going to close the office in a month. She wanted those people back on the phones pretty quickly. In another month, none of them will be answering the phones."