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Unemployed Workers Union File Class Action Lawsuit To Prevent End Of Federal Benefits

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The Unemployed Workers Union has filed a class-action lawsuit naming Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland Secretary of Labor, Tiffany Robinson, as defendants.

Attorney Alec Summerfield filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of about 50,000 people who filed for unemployment insurance dating back to March 18, 2020. The lawsuit is asking for a temporary restraining order to stop Governor Larry Hogan from ending the additional $300 weekly pandemic relief payments.

It is also demanding that the Maryland Labor Department quickly release payments to people who have waited weeks, months and even longer periods of time for their benefits.

"Now is not the time to withhold essential benefits for the people who have been doing the living, the fighting and the dying during this terrible terrible pandemic," said Attorney Alec Summerfield.

A spokesperson with Governor Hogan's office sent WJZ the following statement in response to the class-action lawsuit:

"On bonus benefits: Go anywhere in the state right now, and employers will tell you their top challenge is finding enough workers. In fact, there are more jobs available now than ever before. Even the White House has distanced itself from bonus benefits, saying that states have every right to opt-out.

An example of what the labor shortage looks like can be found in the most recent jobs report. The Accommodations and Food Services industry added 2,200 jobs in May -- less than in February, March, and April even while demand continues to rise.

Additionally, wages and salaries increased in May, which supports the state's reasoning for opting out of the program.

On pending claims: "The state continues to successfully process more than 97% of claims even while facing an onslaught of fraudulent claims each week. For the small fraction that are pending, state law, unfortunately, leaves claimants vulnerable to being stuck in a complicated adjudication process. The General Assembly failed to address this problem during its 2021 session."

Baltimore resident, Vic Frierson, is going on four weeks without having received his unemployment benefits and has been calling the Maryland Department of Labor several times daily.

It was only by happenstance that he finally spoke to a live operator this week. However, the person was not able to say with any certainty when Frierson will receive his benefits.

Prior to the pandemic, Frierson drove for Lyft ride-sharing. He still wants to wait until more people are fully vaccinated before returning.

"I'm not at all comfortable with now getting back on the road prematurely in the close confines of my vehicle," said Frierson. "We, including me, paid into the system and now expect to derive the benefit."

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