As GOP bills aimed at striking $300 federal unemployment benefits in Wisconsin work their way through the Legislature, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday said the state should also consider boosting enforcement of job search requirements to get more people back to work.
Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, joined a panel of business owners hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Wednesday to discuss workforce shortage issues in the state, which were present before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many who spoke during the roundtable discussion said enhanced unemployment benefits exacerbate those challenges.
“It was our biggest problem prior to COVID-19 and it has become an emergency,” said WMC president and CEO Kurt Bauer.
Vos, a business owner, said in addition to eliminating enhanced benefits, the state also needs to “push a little harder to get people off the sidelines.”
“It seems like in Wisconsin we do not do a very good job of No. 1 making it easy for an employer to report a no-show for an interview, and then doing anything about it,” Vos said.
DWD spokesman Tyler Tichenor said in an email there is no requirement for employers to report no shows for interviews.
An employer can report a job refusal to the department, which is reviewed by staff. Requests for additional information are then sent to the claimant and employer about the job refusal. After that, the issue would go through the adjudication process to determine if benefits should be denied, he added.
The Legislature’s GOP-led rules committee last month eliminated the state’s emergency rule waiving work search requirements in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
The work search waiver first went into effect in March 2020 and was set to expire in July. With the waiver eliminated, unemployed people again have to perform four work-search activities each week in order to obtain benefits.
The Assembly’s workforce committee voted along party lines Wednesday on legislation that would eliminate the state’s participation in enhanced federal unemployment benefits, which provide individuals on unemployment an extra $300 per week.
The GOP-authored legislation will be before a Senate committee Thursday and has strong support from Republican lawmakers and some of the state’s largest business organizations, but could be heading to an eventual veto by Gov. Tony Evers.
Expiring Sept. 6
Enhanced unemployment benefits provide individuals $300 in weekly unemployment benefits in addition to the state’s maximum weekly benefit of $370. Enhanced benefits are slated to expire Sept. 6.
“You can make a good argument that there was a need for supplemental benefits for some period of time,” bill author Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said last week. “I think the time for that has come to an end.”
Republican lawmakers and several of the state’s largest business organizations have said enhanced unemployment benefits have created a disincentive for some to find employment, which has exacerbated workforce shortage issues that were present before the pandemic.
“This has gone from an annoyance pre-pandemic to a crisis,” said Scott Mayer, chairman and CEO of Midwest employment agency QPS Employment Group. Mayer estimated the agency has close to 3,000 job openings in Wisconsin.
Other organizations and several Democratic lawmakers have defended the enhanced benefits as necessary for those unable to find work as sectors of the economy continue to reopen, or for those who are reluctant to return to in-person employment during the ongoing pandemic. They also say it puts pressure on employers to raise wages.
‘Lot of reasons’
Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, said last week increased child care offerings and affordable housing near employers would go further to help eliminate barriers to work and help with labor shortage challenges.
“There are a lot of reasons that there is a workforce shortage and it’s not necessarily the $300 in supplemental income,” Johnson said.
Evers has defended enhanced unemployment benefits and last month said he was “strongly considering vetoing” the GOP-authored bill if it reaches his desk.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 3.9% in April, compared with 14.8% one year ago as the pandemic forced businesses to shut down.
Meet the Madison area's Top Workplaces
Madison’s strong economy, marked by its diversity, workforce and historically low unemployment, is a fertile seedbed for new-company innovation and place for well-established businesses to thrive. These companies are doing just that, according to their employees.
Engaged leadership, a culture of building employee skills and a commitment to helping members boosted Summit Credit Union to the top spot among large firms in this year’s Top Workplaces project.
Working in a convenience store isn’t always seen as desirable, but Kwik Trip officials say their employee benefits and choosiness in hiring have helped redefine that image for the 680-store chain.
EVCO Plastics, a third-generation family company, believes that the power of technology is unleashed by the right human touch.
In 1969, when LeRoy Carlson started what today is TDS Telecommunications, he was a believer in investing in employees – a value that company officials say continues as the firm enters its 51st year.
The Waunakee Community School District draws its identity and its workplace culture from the community it serves.
Tri-North Builders Inc. was founded in Madison in 1981 as a general contracting firm and has continuously expanded services to offer pre-construction, general construction, construction management, design-build, independent cost estimating and green-building consulting services.
Finding qualified, talented employees is a tough job in a low-employment landscape such as Madison’s – but keeping them is also a major challenge that cuts to the heart of a workplace’s culture.
Taking care of the caregivers is one of the ways that Senior Helpers built a culture of compassion among its 160 employees.
The first job at Fairway Independent Mortgage is humility.
Amtelco, a 44-year-old family-owned company, builds its corporate culture on a foundation of treating its employees, its customers and its community like family.
When The Douglas Stewart Company took on a demanding new contract last year, everybody chipped in by working long hours and weekends – including its executives and their families.
Kevin Klagos has a simple formula for success in dentistry: Take care of your employees and they will reflect that same care with their patients.
Widen Enterprises Inc. builds software that empowers organizations to create compelling, meaningful and measurable digital experiences.
KL Engineering provides civil engineering services built around a specialization in transportation engineering.
The companies recognized in the Wisconsin State Journal’s Top Workplaces project this year possess not only vibrant workplace cultures, but interesting histories, practices and approaches to community service.
Dan Fitzgerald believes that enabling employees to make decisions – and learn from mistakes – drives the culture at Horizon Develop Build Manage, providing the underpinning of a Top Workplace.
Keeping creative minds engaged at the brand-building firm Shine United involves both empowering and rewarding employees.
Feeding employees’ ambitions to change a company and an industry, trust and fair compensation are the foundation of the culture at Abodo, an online rental marketplace with a national reach.
Propeller Health emerged from a year of change with its employee culture intact and, company officials say, even stronger.
A few years back, Andy Kurth shifted his focus at Weed Man Lawn Care from being solely money driven to one of helping his employees succeed and thrive.
Although all of the organizations recognized in this section have earned distinction as Top Workplaces for 2020, employees at some of them felt so strongly in certain respects that their companies were singled out for special awards.
"You can make a good argument that there was a need for supplemental benefits for some period of time. I think the time for that has come to an end.”
State Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green