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Chicago Labor Relief Fund Helps Unemployed Union Workers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For many unemployed workers across the state, help is not coming easy. CBS 2 has been getting email from viewers who say they have been spending hours online or on the phone with no results.

Anne Becker tried to apply for unemployment benefits through the state of Illinois website since losing her job as a school bus driver on March 19. Because she received unemployment checks three years ago, she thought her information might still be in the state's database.

It was not.

"I tried to re-register, and that's when I got that error message saying that it couldn't identify me again and that I should call the 1-800 number," Becker said.

Calling that number did not go well either.

"The 1-800 number, you dial it and it goes through this long dissertation about COVID-19 and about the stimulus checks and after three minutes it says, 'I'm sorry we can't take your call and disconnects. You can't leave a message. You cannot," Becker said.

She said she tried calling 28 times on Tuesday alone.

With unemployment in Illinois surging and businesses shutting down because of COVID-19, CBS 2 has heard from many people who say they can't even file a claim, let alone receive benefits. A state spokeswoman said technicians have upgraded computer servers and staffers are working "tirelessly" to process claims.

With so many struggling now to put food on the table, there is help for some hard hit union workers -- direct payments from what is called the Chicago Labor Relief Fund.

"We identified a group of people that we thought were the most vulnerable," said Bob Reiter, president Chicago Federation of Labor.

Reiter said it's a one time $500 charitable payment to people who clean hotels, wash laundry and stagehands at theaters, among other workers.

"Not glamorous jobs but service jobs that I think we all take for granted," he said.

Becker can't do her job because schools are closed‚ so she will be back on the phone.

"It's the only thing I can do because I can't get in on the website," she said.

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