Matthew Scherer, of Shelby Township, put posters on the front door of the Michigan unemployment insurance office on Hayes Road in Sterling Heights. The posters sought weeks of unemployment money that he said he had been unable to acquire. He later said he ended up getting the money.

Matthew Scherer, of Shelby Township, put posters on the front door of the Michigan unemployment insurance office on Hayes Road in Sterling Heights. The posters sought weeks of unemployment money that he said he had been unable to acquire. He later said he ended up getting the money.

Photo provided by Matthew Scherer


Man protests with posters at Sterling unemployment office

‘I’ve sent 500 messages. They don’t respond.’

By: Eric Czarnik | C&G Newspapers | Published July 24, 2020

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STERLING HEIGHTS — After waiting weeks for answers and with no clues as to when he’d receive the unemployment insurance he had signed up for, Matthew Scherer, of Shelby Township, had had enough with automated messages, emails and red tape.

So he decided to duct-tape posters to the front door of the Sterling Heights Michigan unemployment office on Hayes Road, near Canal Road.

In a July 19 email, he said the posters’ message is self-explanatory — namely that the office owed him and many other people unemployment money.

“It’s impossible to call them and get through,” he said in an email. “I’ve sent 500 messages. They don’t respond. I’ve tried to chat with an agent online; that’s not possible.”

Scherer’s posters asked the Unemployment Insurance Agency to call him if something needed straightening out. He said the UIA owed him five weeks of unemployment, starting May 3, and that he had called numerous times and left messages to reach an agent, yet he received no response.

The poster noted that he is unemployed due to COVID-19, his rent was late, his auto insurance lapsed and his 14-year-old daughter is sick of ramen noodles.

In his email, he said he wants to know why the office won’t hire more staff to take people’s calls or set up a scheduling system.

“A lot of people are out of work, owed money and are hungry. The no-eviction grace period has ended,” he said. “I have upheld my end of the bargain and followed all COVID-19-related mandates. Why can’t they uphold their end and pay us?”

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the layoff of tens of millions of people nationwide this year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the state had around 732,000 unemployed people in June, which was fewer than the 1.01 million reported in May. Michigan’s June unemployment rate was 14.8%.

Over the past few months, state Sen. Michael MacDonald, R-Macomb Township, has been holding teleconference town halls and small gatherings in his district. During those forums, he has heard complaints from residents who weren’t getting their benefits and have struggled to connect with someone from the UIA.

In an emailed statement, MacDonald said he recently sponsored Senate Resolution 132, which calls attention to the unemployment system’s “mismanagement” and calls for changes to the department. He said “far too many people have yet to receive any assistance or even a phone call.”

“I have had hundreds of people reach out to my office with questions and problems regarding the Unemployment Insurance Agency, and since the governor refuses to reopen the UIA offices to help constituents, I will be offering help at my coffee hour for those who have questions with her departments,” MacDonald’s statement said.

Eric Stocker, MacDonald’s chief of staff, said MacDonald will hold an upcoming resident office hour event 10-11 a.m. Aug. 3 at the Sterling Heights Senior Center, 40200 Utica Road in Sterling Heights.

Scherer said he originally thought about writing more posters and arranging a picketing protest at the office. But he said on July 22, that he finally ended up receiving his money after getting a call from the office. He said the office was concerned about the sign and wanted him to take it down. He said he planned to do so.

“Apparently, the photograph went viral,” Scherer said in a text message. “Several people called me the next day pertaining to it and said it was on Facebook.”

However, Scherer said he still knows people who are also owed money, and the problem persists for them.

“This is not rectified just because they paid me,” he said. “They just did that for the fact that it wasn’t good PR, that sign being up. So I would really like to see something done for the people that haven’t been paid yet ’cause there are a lot of starving people out there due to this problem.”

The Sterling Heights office could not be reached for comment by press time. The branch, at press time, had 153 Google reviews resulting in a rating of 1.2 stars out of 5, with many people recently posting that the building has been closed and they’ve been unable to contact anyone.

In response to Michiganders who complain about the Sterling Heights facility being unreachable, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Erica Quealy gave the following advice to what people who haven’t received their benefits should do.

“While the UIA offices remain closed to protect the health and safety of Michiganders, we encourage claimants to use the online chat function in their MiWAM account,” she said in an email, referring to the Michigan Web Account Manager, the online unemployment insurance filing system.

“We also encourage claimants to review the Correspondence tab within their MiWAM account to ensure they are receiving the latest updates.”

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