TRANSLATION TIFF

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New Yorkers who lose their jobs could soon face a tougher time maneuvering through the unemployment system–particularly if their grasp of English is tenuous. The state Department of Labor announced plans this spring to close a lower Manhattan telephone call center and shift the agency’s 250 staff to Troy or Endicott, citing budget necessity. But that’s not just bad news for the workers, said Roger Benson, president of the Public Employees Federation, which represents about 150 of the office’s workers. “Residents who have to file an unemployment claim will lose the most, especially if they do not speak fluent English,” testified Benson at a July 8 hearing on the office’s closing. PEF staff speak more than a half-dozen languages, according to Darcy Wells, a spokesperson for the union, which fears that bilingual staff will be harder to find upstate. It’s not the first time translation has posed a problem for the unemployment system; when the state closed down the city’s in-person unemployment offices in 2001 and replaced them with a phone system, the only languages initially available were English and Spanish. It took a class action suit before the system offered translation for languages other than Spanish. Department of Labor officials failed to return repeated phone calls by press time. (T. McMillan) [07/15/05]