Part 1: The Nightmare Begins.

When I started this I was sitting at my desk waiting for my phone “interview” with the California State Employment Development Department (known to those who are not being screwed by the system as EDD). The experience is somewhat akin to waiting for the Cable Guy or somebody from the phone company because you are given a 2 hour window in which they will call you (ok, actually the phone company gives you a 13 hour window but you get the picture). That is the only similarity. Dealing with the phone or cable company is much more pleasant! If you miss your appointment with the Cable Guy, you can just call the company up, get a human (ok, so sometimes they are in India, are almost impossible to understand and have names like “Mike” or “Susan” but at least they are real flesh and blood people!) and reschedule the appointment, often with in a week or 2. Not with this mess of a state bureaucracy! Oh noooo, miss the appointment and it is all down hill from here, starting with the fact that you CAN NOT get thorough to a human on the phone and your claim for unemployment benefits is pretty much automatically denied.

My appointment window is from 10 am to 12 noon, this is my second appointment and I don’t dare miss this one. Two months has gone by and I have been unable to collect unemployment because the system is a real mess and I missed a phone call. When I was notified the 1st time that I was going to be laid of at the end of October (See my December post “One Mess Of A Year”), I went online and tried to start the unemployment filing process. Back in the days when everything was on paper and there were still local unemployment offices with real people in them (now the system is comprised almost entirely of a way antiquated computer system and very few, if any, real people), you could file your claim before you actually were laid off (if you had a hard date) and get your waiting period out of the way while still working or just spread up the process and get paid faster. Not any more. How dare anyone try and be efficient and speed up a government bureaucratic process! You actually have be off for one day (you can not enter a present or future date) to file your claim.

Ok, I’m laid off, time to file my claim. Step 1, go on line. Great, I can do that, I am into to computers. Everything is going smoothly until I hit line 32…. Then the trouble begins.

Line 32 reads; “if you received, or if you expect to receive, any payments from an employer other than your regular pay, report the payment(s) below.”

  • 32a Holiday pay     (space for yes/no)       Amount From  To (have no idea what the heck that is for!)
  • 32b Vacation pay   (space for yes/no)       Amount From  To
  • 32c Severance pay (space for yes/no)        Amount From  To
  • 32d In-Lieu-of-Notice pay (space for yes/no)        Amount From  To
  • 32e Other pay       (space for yes/no)        Amount From  To
  • 32f Please Explain Other Pay, if any: (and then a box for the explanation…If any.)

Now I need to jump to one side for a bit and explain how Cal Fire Bargaining Unit 8 employees (read: Firefighters) are paid. 1st of all, there are actually two separate classes of employees; “Permanent” and “Limited Term” (known as LT’s, I was a LT FAE). Limited term employees have the exact same duties and responsibilities as “Perm” employees but are really “temps” and often may have less training than a “Perm”. They are pretty much at will employees and have absolutely no job security (I won’t go into things like time limits, fake lay-offs and list position, it will just make your head hurt!). One other difference is that they (LT’s) do not get “vacation pay” but instead get what is known as “annual leave” which is pretty much just vacation pay by a different name. Here begins problem #1(note that it doesn’t fit into anything but the “other pay” box)!

All Cal Fire Bargaining Unit 8 employees are paid with 2 separate checks. The 1st is the monthly salary, is based off of the standard Cal Fire work month and is paid on the first of the month like every other state employee. That is your “regular pay” or “base salary”. The second check is the weird one. It is the overtime check. It is also paid on a 28 day pay period. Almost all paid firefighters nationwide work scheduled overtime. In Cal Fire, you work an average of 3 24 hour shifts each week (3 on 4 off or in my case 2 on 2 of and so on). Most firefighters are on a 48-56 hour work week (as opposed to the average working Joe who is on either an 8 hour day or 40 hour week and is paid OT after those hours. Firefighters are not paid OT until after 48-56 hours per week depending on their agreement with their department) which means that there is automatically scheduled overtime every week. This “scheduled” OT is paid on a separate check, along with any “unscheduled” OT you have earned from working extra shifts (which is VERY common in California’s fire season). Because months are 30-31 days, and the OT is paid on a 28 pay period (13 pay periods per year. I have no idea where the extra day goes!), the “end” of the pay period drifts. Also, the state is not required (as every business in the state is) to pay this check on any kind of a regular schedule. It only has to be paid with in 3 weeks from the “end” of the pay period. This means that you have no idea when this other check is going to come!

So what does this have to do with this saga? It is problem #2. a) OT, scheduled or not is not regular salary and b) when I was laid off, my unused holiday pay and annual leave where lumped together into my OT check and god only knows when I would see that! Certainly not by the time I was filing unemployment (that paycheck in and of itself and the road trip to find it is an entirely other saga!). Problem #3 is that, because we firefighters work 24 hour shifts, 7 days a week, 365, our holiday and vacation time are computed and paid strangely (I am still not sure how the heck it works!). You may take a vacation day, be paid for 24 hours but only debted something like 15 hours or so. Very weird. The upshot of all of this and my point is that I had NO idea what my final pay would be and could not wait for the check (which could be weeks away) to come in before filing my unemployment claim (remember, this is where we left off, right?).

So on line 32e: Other Pay; I put yes (after putting no on line 32a: Holiday pay because I couldn’t break it out!) and in the explanation box, tried to sum up the last 588 words into that tiny box!

I guess it didn’t suffice. I received a notice that I had to have a phone interview to discuss my “return to work date” (what return to work date? I can’t go back until I test again, there is no RTW date, where the heck did that come from?), and my failure to complete the form (what? I completed it to the best of my ability! All boxes were filled out!). I was to have in front of me all information pertaining to “Other Pay”.

The interview was scheduled for December 9th…  Does anybody in Northern California remember what happened the day before December 9th 2009?

To be continued.