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DEO lays offs potentially hundreds of call center agents, department says they are 'prioritizing vendors'

Posted at 5:32 PM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 19:30:53-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Department of Economic Opportunity has laid off potentially hundreds of call center employees that have fielded unemployment questions from jobless Floridians.

This comes as hundreds of thousands of people continue to file for unemployment.

“I was hung up on probably six times,” said Deborah Fine-Whittaker, who filed for unemployment in late March.

A narrative so many folks have been told ABC Action News for months now and it may be why the DEO decided to terminate contracts with two call center companies. The DEO said in a statement it is, “prioritizing vendors who have fully trained representatives,“ and that, “Vendors who are not providing as high-quality services will not continue to provide services at this time.”

Fine-Whittaker says she can’t get a straight answer about why she suddenly stopped receiving benefits for a wage determination.

“The people who talk to you there at the call center may not even really know, I’ve gotten so many different answers,” she said.

And although the DEO did not site poor performance as a reason for the termination of contracts it’s letting go of 155 call center agents from United Data Technologies and 800 from AECOM. The DEO notes not all of those representatives were working on DEO accounts when a statement about the layoffs was made to journalists Tuesday night.

The last day for representatives from AECOM is Tuesday, July 21, and Thursday, July 23 for representatives from UDT.

“You would hope that the DEO was monitoring the performance of these vendors under the contracts. So if you have vendors that are hanging up on people well that’s a problem. That’s not customer services,” said Ryan Barack, a labor and employment lawyer.

Many folks are fearful the sudden drop in call center agents could mean longer wait times as they try and sort things out with their claim, even though the DEO says it has 3,000 customer service agents still helping Floridian’s with their claims.

Barack hopes the DEO can keep up.

“The problem is the state has very little credibility left with the consumers because they have been misled, they haven’t been supported, they’ve received inaccurate information repeatedly throughout the process,” he said.

ABC Action News has reached out to the two companies for comment.

Here is DEO’s full response to the termination of contracts:

“As the Department works to continue to improve the customer service provided to claimants during this unprecedented time, the Department is prioritizing vendors who have fully trained representatives to handle all claimant issues and are more proficient in the CONNECT system, are meeting or exceeding contractual performance expectations and providing high-quality customer service to Floridians. Vendors who are not providing as high-quality services will not continue to provide services at this time.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has ended the contracts with AECOM and UDT. At this time, DEO has determined it is best to focus its efforts on the companies that have provided higher skilled and fully trained representatives.

DEO continues to fund more than 3,000 customer service representatives who are available during customer service hours to assist Floridians with their Reemployment Assistance claims. The Department will continue to monitor resource demands and needs to ensure service levels for Floridians will continue to improve. The Department remains committed to helping eligible Floridians receive their Reemployment Assistance benefits as quickly as possible.”