Whistleblowers: Department of Labor destroyed unemployment complaints
AUGUSTA (WGME) – When the state labor department rolled out its new unemployment filing system three months ago, 17,000 Mainers filed for unemployment, but only half received benefits.
There were a lot of complaints about the system.
Whistleblowers in the department claim they were ordered to destroy some of those complaints.
Mardie Womeldorf says when she first applied for unemployment benefits, the labor department's ReEmployMe computer system had just come online. She says nothing she tried worked, and she couldn't get through to the labor department for help.
"I would be on hold forever,” Womeldorf said. “And then sometimes they would take your number and try to call you back. Sometimes you got calls back. Sometimes you didn't."
State Senator Shenna Bellows says she's heard from multiple current and former labor department employees, who claim they were told to destroy telephone complaints from people like Womeldorf.
"If indeed senior management at the Department of Labor ordered or allowed the complaints from Mainers to be destroyed, they need to be held accountable," Bellows said.
Labor Commissioner John Butera admits the new system had hiccups, but he says that never happened.
"No, that's not true, no,” Butera said. “We take every allegation and accusation seriously and we look into them. And we have to retain documents. Whether they're electronic or any type, we keep them all."
Senator Bellows says the so-called whistleblowers fear retaliation.
Womeldorf says she's now getting her unemployment benefits.
She says she missed out on three weeks of benefits, but says the labor department is easier to reach now.
"They've been very nice and very responsive,” Womeldorf said. “But that's been in the last month or so."
Despite those glitches, the commissioner says they're on track to roll out the second phase of the ReEmployMe system, and that is for businesses to report what they pay in to unemployment.