What’s it like to take calls at the Colorado unemployment office?

Problem Solvers

'I would leave work crying' — and was owed money, too

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Felicia Salter said she had one of the most thankless jobs in Colorado: a customer service call agent for the state’s unemployment department.

Salter worked for Conversion Calls, a sub-contractor for the Department of Labor and Employment.

“I mean I’ve had people that have been waiting on their unemployment since September, November,” Salter said.

The 41-year old Aurora woman told the FOX31 Problem Solvers that she was out of work for months during the pandemic until she found a job helping those in the same situation and in need of their unemployment benefits.

“There’s people that can’t take being cussed out, and that never bothered me, because I understood their frustration,” Salter said.

She said nearly every call that she took was heartbreaking and remembered one from a man that especially haunted her.

“His wife had stage 4 breast cancer, and they got evicted out of their home and were living in their car,” Salter recalled.

From the countless calls she was taking, Salter became increasing discouraged that cases were getting resolved, even when she would escalate a claim for further investigation.

“They don’t do anything anyways. Once the ticket is sent to them, it’s like it’s in dead air. I’ve had a ticket out since February,” Salter said.

Salter’s own case hadn’t been resolved when the Problem Solvers interviewed her. When she finally got a call back in late May, the customer service agent hung up on her.

The Problem Solvers obtained the phone call, and you can hear a frustrated Salter tell the agent, “I want my account unlocked. I’ve been fighting to get my damn account unlocked for the past four months.”

A few seconds later, the customer call agent can be heard saying, “Stop shouting or I’m going to have to cut the call,” to which Salter responds, “Do you not understand I have four months worth of money to collect?” when the call agent suddenly hangs up the phone.

“The next thing I know, it was dead air. I didn’t hear nothing. I heard a dial tone,” Salter said.

The Problem Solvers reached out to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment office and spoke with Phil Spesshardt, who is the director of its unemployment insurance division. He said he understands all the frustrations.

“It is unfortunate that we still have people struggling at this point in time,” Spesshardt said.

While he can’t speak about Salter’s individual experience, whether as a claimant or a customer service agent, he acknowledged the state hasn’t been able to resolve claims nearly as fast as it would like.

“Somewhere in the range of about 5,000 callbacks every week are made and attempted to fix claimant issues,” Spesshardt said. “In our state, we have well over 1.2 million claims that were filed that we believe were fraudulent in nature, so this also actually takes resources away from processing the other unemployment insurance claims.”

Spesshardt insisted that the state is trying to catch up, even as call agents deal with threats from people he says are understandably impatient with the status of their claims.

“Individuals talking about guns, coming down to the office with a gun. Individuals talking about blowing the place up,” Spesshardt said of angry callers.

Salter took such a call while on the job.

“All he wanted to do was go to his first daughter’s wedding and give her away, and he was tired of unemployment holding his money. He wanted answers…. but he threatened to go down to the unemployment office with a gun. I don’t know what they did with it from there. I had to turn it over to a supervisor,” Salter said.

This was Salter’s final call. She said she quit right after that conversation,.

“There was those days I would leave work crying. And I was in my own home, but it was bad. People that have kids — I mean they’re on the verge of losing their cars, their homes,” said Salter, who now works in the restaurant industry.

A spokesperson for the Department of Colorado and Employment said Salter didn’t quit her job as a customer call agent but was fired for being unprofessional and looking up her own claim.

Salter denied that accusation to the Problem Solvers and insisted she quit May 5, 2020, barely a month after she started. She said if she had looked up her own claim, she might have been able to get it resolved before contacting the Problem Solvers.

When asked for proof that Salter was terminated, the state provided none to FOX31 but did acknowledge Salter had a legitimate unemployment claim that was only resolved soon after the Problem Solvers forwarded Salter’s concerns to CDLE.

Salter told the Problem Solvers she finally received more than $9,000 in unemployment benefits and expects to receive more that she said is due.

The state said it continues to automate its system and hopes to announce an update later this month that will allow it to unlock frozen accounts much faster than it currently has been able to.

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