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Fact check: Is turnover at California’s unemployment call center unusually high?

·2 min read

Claim: Turnover at the besieged Employment Development Department call center is about 30%. Department Director Rita Saenz told a legislative committee this week that that level is “a traditional statistic for call centers private and public.”

Rating: True

Details: The turnover rate is better than the national average of about 40%, said Paul Stockford, research director at the Tennessee-based National Association of Call Centers.

Turnover rates vary enormously. Stockford cited instances where it exceeded 100% and others where it was close to zero.

California lawmakers were still wary of such high turnover, as constituents continue to complain about lengthy wait times and what they see as insufficient answers.

Saenz appeared at the Monday hearing to detail how EDD is implementing recommendations from a state audit and the Legislature for improving the agency’s efficiency.

The call center has been a popular political target and consistent source of constituent frustration. In April 2020, the month after the pandemic sent unemployment claims soaring, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “I am deeply aware that many of you tried to access that system online, in person and struggled to get in.” He issued an executive order directing EDD to immediately expand the call center’s hours.

Since early last month, when federal benefits expired, the number of calls has dropped every week to 690,005 during the week ending October 16. The calls came from 141,736 people, and 135,602 were answered. The overall number was larger because of repeated calls from the same sources.

Saenz conceded Monday the weekday workload to the call center “still overwhelms the system.”

She detailed how EDD is trying to automate as much as possible. But, she said, people are still needed. EDD officials explained that training someone to handle the often complex work can take months.

Saenz said she understood why working at EDD was intense. “I must say that EDD, when I was not here last year, was under quite a pressure cooker and we had a number of people retire and managers step down,” she said.

EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy added Wednesday that before the pandemic last year, unemployment was near record lows, and as a result funding and staffing were at low levels. Today, EDD has about 2,700 staff in the call center answering incoming calls and processing associated claim filing work.

About 500 are “tier 1” representatives who can help with general information. Others are Employment Program Representative with more extensive training and experience to answer questions about more complex claim specific issues.

Salaries range from about $3,287 to $5,366 per month.

The retention data made sense to Stockford.

“It’s a tough job. You’re working for not much more than minimum wage, you’re micromanaged and every nuance is being measured,” he said. “The next call is often someone yelling at you. How much can you take?”

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