New program aimed at maintaining work forces, jobs

The Maine Department of Labor on Monday noted a new program launched this month aimed at helping companies maintain their work force, and at having employees keep their jobs.

The initiative known as WorkShare allows workers to remain on the job with reduced hours and still collect a modified unemployment benefit that partially offsets the loss in wages.

When employers need to have a temporary layoff or cut hours, they risk losing their best employees to other jobs,” said Maine Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass, in the release. “WorkShare helps businesses retain their workforce part-time and allows workers to collect unemployment benefits. This can temporarily make up the difference in lost hours.”

In a separate release, the Houe Democratic Office said the new program is the result of a bill by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. Twenty other states have implemented work-sharing, the Houe D’s said, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York.

Work-share programs are a proven way to help businesses weather the storm of an economic downturn, and help our families limit the damage that it causes to their economic security,” said Russell, in the release. According to the release, New York’s Shared Work program saved nearly 11,000 jobs at more than 2,200 companies. Massachusetts enrolled more than 9,900 workers at 450 companies, directly saving 2,500 jobs.

From the ME DOL release, some mechanics:

To be eligible for WorkShare, the employer needs to attest that the layoff would have impacted at least 10 percent of workers for a two-to-six-month period.  The reduction in hours must be at least 10 percent—but not more than 50 percent—and affect a unit of the business that normally works on a full-time basis. WorkShare is not available for work reductions that are temporary or related to a seasonal or intermittent downturn.

To receive unemployment benefits under WorkShare, workers must be included in the affected unit of the business; have earned enough wages to meet the regular qualifications for unemployment benefits; and be able and available to work their normally scheduled hours for their employer. Partial unemployment benefits are paid in a percentage equal to the reduction in hours.  Thus, someone who has lost 25 percent of their hours would receive 25 percent of their normal weekly unemployment benefit if they are eligible for the program.

We have an opportunity to literally save jobs,” said Russell. “We’ve seen it work in other states and now Maine has an opportunity to make it work in our state. “The work-share program ensures our middle class families and small businesses don’t fall through the cracks.”