Support H.B. 5507, federal reform of unemployment laws to protect part-time workers and increase equity

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Nov 1, 2021

Members of Congress concerned about serious gaps in the unemployment insurance system took a decisive step forward October 8 by introducing H.B. 5507 in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill, sponsored by Donald Beyer, Jr. (D,VA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D,NY) and other representatives, would help claimants in all states, including Washington, by providing benefits for many workers who are currently excluded from our system. It would also advance another important cause: greater uniformity and increased equity of unemployment benefits from state to state.

HB 5507 would:

  • Provide benefits to people who earned at least $1,500 in the prior year if they earned $1,000 in at least one quarter of that year. Washington denies benefits to a much larger group of part-time workers than any other state: anyone who has worked less than 680 hours, which excludes workers who earned less than $9,309 in their prior year based on our state’s minimum wage.
  • Ensure that more people who lose a part-time job can count on support by reducing the number of past work hours required in order to qualify for unemployment benefits. Washington sets extremely strict limits on which part-time workers may receive benefits.
  • Provide that all workers may seek a part-time job and still receive benefits based on their past work. They may choose to seek up to a 20-hour per week part-time job if the job is at least 1/2 of their work hours in a typical work week. Washington law requires claimants to seek full-time work except for a small number of part-time workers.
  • Allowing workers to receive up to one third of their normal wage and salary through part-time work without cuts in their unemployment benefits. Washington currently cuts benefits by about 75% of every extra dollar claimants earn while collecting unemployment.
  • Make other reforms in worker eligibility and benefit amounts by requiring states to provide a minimum of 26 weeks of benefits; ensuring that online claims handling can be readily understood by people with disabilities, literacy challenges, or limited English; and information is available in languages spoken by at least 1% of the state’s population.

Washington’s unemployment benefits system has many strengths but some very harsh limits as well. H.B. 5507 would significantly improve the accessibility and equity of benefits in our state.

ULP urges your support for H.B. 5507. The pandemic has resoundingly demonstrated that reform of our unemployment benefit laws is desperately needed and these reforms will help many, many workers. Help increase momentum for this bill by contacting your Congressional representatives in the House and Senate and asking for their support in seeing these reforms are passed into law. You can reach any member of Congress by calling 202-224-3121, the Congressional switchboard, and asking to be connected to your representative or senator.

Private bar in Washington steps up during the pandemic

October 13, 2021

OCLA-sponsored attorney team generously answers the call to help claimants with unemployment benefit appeals

Throughout the pandemic, stories about the struggle that many jobless workers in Washington have had in securing unemployment benefits they temporarily needed for basic costs of living have been front-page news and exploded on social media.

Less well known is the fact that it often takes legal counsel to navigate the benefits bureaucracy and challenge benefit denials. And that can pose a major obstacle for people who find themselves without a steady income.

Fortunately, the private bar in Washington state has come forward decisively to help address these workers’ needs by signing on with a program, sponsored by the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA), that funds them to offer their advocacy services to unemployed workers at significantly reduced rates.

In a normal year, judges with the Office of Administrative Hearings might hear some 25,000 appeals of unemployment benefit denials filed by Washington claimants. But 2020, of course, was anything but normal. Due to tripled numbers of benefit applications and denials, an enormous backlog of appeals built up in our state, with appellants forced to wait months for resolution.

The unmet need for representation of claimants without a steady income went skyward. At one point this spring, OAH was faced with finding judges to hear 70,000-plus appeals and needed to turn to the legislature for special funding to keep pace.

The state funded extra administrative law judges and OCLA had its own response at the ready: a panel of attorneys available to provide counsel to claimants at significantly reduced cost. With direction and funding by OCLA, the Unemployment Law Project helped recruit and train an “OCLA panel,” a contingent of more than 40 attorneys in Eastern and Western Washington who would be on call to represent claimants in their appeals.

Already in 2021, this dedicated group has taken several hundred appeals and is on track to have helped 1,000 claimants by the end of this year. Their clients may have been denied benefits because of quitting a job, or because they couldn’t work while their children’s school was closed. Or the state may have alleged that they wrongly received benefits and must pay them back—sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars—or for dozens of other reasons.

These claimants can include single mothers, 20-year-olds who have lost their first job, people working in offices, in warehouses, in hospitals, at construction sites. It’s likely that most of them had never been unemployed before the pandemic.

Claimants routinely say that having the support of an OCLA panel attorney has been invaluable, whether or not they win their appeals. “My attorney was not only professional and knowledgeable, but also personable and caring, one claimant said. “It’s difficult to express how much relief it gave me to have my attorney by my side during this process.”

Said another: “I am deeply appreciative of the services and advice you have offered to workers who are navigating challenging, stressful, and often intimidating circumstances. You are doing work that is very important; you have my thanks and respect.”

OCLA and ULP join claimants in thanking this exceptional group of Washington attorneys who have answered the call for help and eased the blow of unemployment during the pandemic for so many people in our state.


The Unemployment Law Project is a non-profit law firm based in Seattle and Spokane that assists unemployment claimants with appeals of benefit denials.

The Office of Civil Legal Aid‘s mission is to secure, invest, and oversee public funding for civil legal aid to low-income people in Washington State.

For further information, contact Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director, Unemployment Law Project,, 206-441-9178 ext. 114.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2021

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11th, the Unemployment Law Project wishes to acknowledge and commemorate the many indigenous peoples native to the land now known as Washington State and all over the world. We celebrate the histories of communities that lived here from time immemorial and honor the fact that we operate on native land. We celebrate members of the Chehalis, Chinook, Colville, Cowlitz, Duwamish, Hoh, Jamestown S’Klallam, Kalispel, Kikiallus, Lower Elwha Klallam, Lummi, Makah, Marietta Band of Nooksack, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Nooksack, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Puyallup, Quileute, Samish, Sauk-Suiattle, Shoalwater Bay, Skokomish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Snoqualmoo, Spokane, Squaxin, Steilacoom, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tulalip, Upper Skagit, and Yakama Tribes, Communities, and Nations, in addition to the countless other peoples who lived on this land before us. The Unemployment Law Project strives to continuously improve our ability to serve these communities with zealous and compassionate representation.

Learn more about Indigenous Peoples’ Day here.

Unemployment Law Project wins fight to reform hours of availability rules

August 10, 2021

A new hours-of-availability rule that will help many Washington state unemployment benefits claimants became final July 26, 2021. The Unemployment Law Project has been working on this reform with the Employment Security Department (ESD) since 2017. ESD proposed this rule in response to concerns ULP and other worker advocate groups have raised for several years about the impact of hours-of-availability rules on caregivers.

When the new rule (WSR 21-11-004) takes effect January 2, 2022, it will make some major changes:

  • For the estimated 40% of claimants who work in fields with customary hours of 24/7, there will be no more requirement of 24/7 availability to work. Only a minimum of 40 hours of availability, chosen by the claimant, are required. (E.g., if you are offered a job that requires overtime, you are not required to accept it in order to be considered available to work.)
  • A claimant’s prior shifts of employment will be considered a working condition determining suitable work. (E.g., if you are in a job with customary hours of 24/7 but you generally worked 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, you will no longer have to accept a job offer that involves variable hours or a weekend shift or a graveyard shift.)
  • Claimants can choose the 40 hours they’re available, as long as the restriction on the number of hours they can work, the essential functions they can perform, and the occupations they are seeking do not substantially limit their employment prospects within their general area. (E.g., if you can only work evenings but there are very few jobs in your local area or your field of employment with those hours, you may have to expand your job search in order to be considered available to work.) 
  • The rule applies to all claimants with hours restrictions, not only those who are caregivers or who rely upon caregivers.

ULP thanks the experts and advocates who helped develop this important rule change and see it to the finish line: Pamela Crone, Rep. Mia Gregerson, Anne Paxton, Carolyn McConnell, Maggie Humphreys, Moms Rising!, Suzi LeVine, the ESD policy and rulemaking teams, Legal Foundation of Washington, Washington State Labor Council, Andra Kranzler, Lillian Kaide, Monica Holland, Kelly Sennott, Jana Wolff, Rebecca Smith, Sean Phelan, Joseph Kendo, Marilyn Watkins, and Deborah Maranville.

The Unemployment Law Project also thanks donors to our organization, who provide one third of our funding. Our donors were essential in bringing about this rule change. To help our ongoing efforts to reform laws and policy on unemployment benefits, please consider a tax-deductible donation of any size to ULP. You can make a donation at or by contacting us at 206-441-9178.

Important unemployment reform bill SB 5193 signed into law

“Olympia – Washington State Capital-9” by MathTeacherGuy is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

May 12, 2021

Washington state workers will have better assurance of equitable and effective processing of unemployment claims and transparent metrics of the performance of the Employment Security Department following the enactment of SB 5193, signed today by Governor Jay Inslee.

The bill, actively backed by ULP throughout the 2021 legislative session, won passage through the leadership of its prime sponsor, Senator Mike Conway, and lead sponsor in the House, Rep. Dan Bronoske. ULP assisted with development of bill language and testimony on its behalf.

Effective July 25, 2021, SB 5193 requires ESD to:

  • Launch a training program to create a pool of adjudicators to have in reserve when unemployment claims levels surge. 
  • Use plain language, tested on claimants for comprehensibility, in all letters, alerts, and notices.
  • Clearly explain the law behind all determinations and redeterminations, the relevant facts, the reasoning, the decision, and the result.
  • Explore possible thresholds that trigger automatic adjustments in staffing, a pilot to provide a caseworker approach to benefit claims, and increased language access.
  • Dedicate a toll-free number for claimants with limited computer access or computer skills, disabilities, or limited English proficiency.
  • Maintain an online data dashboard and provide quarterly reports with performance metrics that include call volumes, hold times, repeat calls, and all-circuits-busy messages for employers and claimants, updates of unemployment rates, claims data, claims center phone statistics, staffing ratios, overpayment data, pending claims, pending appeals, recipiency rates, and other information. 
  • Report quarterly to the legislature on progress in implementing SB 5193, including any software or technology issues causing delays, and other claims processing issues.

Other legislation to benefit unemployment benefits claimants passed this year as well. In February, Governor Inslee signed SB 5061, also supported by ULP, which protects employees’ rights to quit or refuse a job that puts them at high risk during a public health emergency and makes a waiver of waiting weeks for benefits automatic when the cost is covered by federal funds. 

ALERT: Legislature to Vote Soon on Unemployment Claims Processing Reform!

[Sent via email on 3/27/21]

Dear friend of ULP:

The final hurdles have been crossed and SB 5193, an important bill, backed by ULP, which will improve many aspects of unemployment claims processing at the Employment Security Department (ESD), will be voted on at any time.

Key committees in the House of Representatives have okayed the measure and any day now, it will go to the floor for a vote before the full chamber.

The Senate already voted Yes on an earlier version of the bill. Some differences between the bills remain to be ironed out and then, with a Yes vote in the House, Washington will have several new provisions to protect claimants from the snarls, dead ends, and delays many encountered over the last 12 months when they were desperately in need of the unemployment benefits they had earned through their work.

SB 5193 requires ESD to:

  • Launch a training program to create a pool of adjudicators to have in reserve when unemployment claims levels surge.
  • Use plain language, tested on claimants for comprehensibility, in all letters, alerts, and notices;
  • Clearly explain the law behind determinations and redeterminations, the relevant facts, the reasoning, the decision and the result;
  • Explore: thresholds that trigger automatic adjustments in staffing, a pilot to provide a caseworker approach to benefit claims, and increased language access;
  • Dedicate a toll-free number for claimants with limited computer access or computer skills;
  • Maintain an online data dashboard, and provide quarterly reports with performance metrics that include updates of unemployment rates, claims data, claims center phone statistics, staffing ratios, overpayment data, and other information.
  • Report quarterly to the legislature on various other claims processing issues.

Please help SB 5193 cross the finish line!

Contact your legislators today and request their support for this measure urgently needed to protect Washington’s more than 3 million workers.

To find your state representatives and senator, use this link:

Thank you for your help in ensuring that our unemployment benefits system provides support that Washington workers and their families can count on.

Anne Paxton
Attorney & Policy Director
Unemployment Law Project

Concerned about identity theft after the SAO claimant data breach?

For more information from the Office of the Washington State Auditor (SAO), click here. For a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the data breach from the SAO, please click here.

On February 1, the Washington state auditor announced that hackers had obtained more than a million unemployment benefit claimant application records, leaving many 2020 benefit applicants’ identities at risk. (See State Auditor’s Office press release.)

These are steps that the Washington Department of Financial Institutions advises to prevent ID theft by an impostor or other criminal when such a data breach occurs.

Steps To Take After a Data Breach to Protect Your Financial Accounts from Fraud


Use the security breach as an opportunity to change and strengthen your passwords, especially those related to online financial institution accounts.


Enable two-factor authentication to log on to your bank account to prevent unauthorized access.


Most financial institutions offer a variety of text and e-mail alerts through online banking. You may also wish to ask your specific institution what they recommend to keep your accounts safe.

You can set up alerts for:

  • When your profile or password is updated
  • When an ATM withdrawal exceeds a certain amount
  • When your account drops below a specific amount
  • When purchases happen


Monitor your financial accounts for unusual activity and withdrawals. If you notice unauthorized activity, report it to your financial institution immediately.


A fraud alert informs creditors of possible identity theft or fraudulent activity within your credit file and requests that the credit grantor contact you prior to establishing any accounts in your name. A fraud alert lasts for one year, seven if requested and you meet specific requirements. A freeze locks your credit so that credit applications are denied until/unless you unfreeze your credit.

To place a fraud alert or freeze, contact any of the three credit reporting agencies:


Keep an eye out for any unusual emails, text messages or phone calls, especially if they appear to come from the State of Washington or your financial institution. These could be social engineering attempts from hackers. Verify that the communication is legitimate by calling the organization back through an official phone number – one from the back of your credit or debit card or the agency’s website directory.


Obtain your free annual credit report at

Check your credit report for errors or fraudulent activity. Report anything suspicious to the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the bureau. You can now check your report every week (through April 2021).


Get a jump on your taxes to prevent a scammer from using your Social Security number to file a fraudulent return. If you’ve already filed, the IRS will flag the second return as suspicious. If you wait, yours could be the one that gets flagged.

Frequently asked questions regarding a data breach at the Office of the Washington State Auditor’s third-party service provider

For more information from the Office of the Washington State Auditor (SAO), click here. To learn more about our recommended steps to protect yourself from fraud, click here.

*Note: This FAQ comes from the Office of the Washington State Auditor*

Frequently asked questions regarding a data breach at SAO’s third-party service provider:

Q: When will I know whether my personal information was involved in this data breach? How will I find out, and what will happen after that?

A: Personal notifications directly to people whose data was involved will begin soon. SAO is continuing to work with its insurance company and legal counsel on these direct notifications. Although we do not have a firm date right now, SAO is doing everything in its power to have this process begin quickly.

In the meantime, SAO has set up a webpage dedicated to providing the latest information on this incident. Please go to

Q: Will this incident, which involved people’s unemployment information, affect the status or processing of their unemployment claims?

A: The Employment Security Department (ESD) does not yet know if the data breach will affect benefit payments. The agency is advising people to continue to submit weekly claims as usual. ESD’s claim system was not involved in this incident. Additionally, if there is something affecting your benefit payment, please check your eServices account for alerts. ESD will notify you of any new issues affecting your benefit claims.

Q: Remind me again: What files were affected?

A: The investigation is ongoing. Here is some of the data we believe was affected:

Personal information of people who filed for unemployment claims from Jan. 1 to Dec. 10, 2020. In addition to members of the general public, this group includes many state employees, as well as people whose identity was used to file for claims fraudulently in early 2020. The data involves about 1.6 million claims and included the person’s name, social security number and/or driver’s license or state identification number, bank information, date of birth and place of employment. Personal information of a smaller number of people, including data held by the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Non-personal financial information and other data from local governments and state agencies.

Q: Why can’t you tell us more about what information was involved?

A: The identities and information of individual people are contained in voluminous data files. We are working diligently to extract the identification and information about each person who was affected. We will provide the right information to the right people at the right time. We are doing our best to balance the need for transparency and the need for security. We are committed to sharing all that we can when it is appropriate.

Q: Why was SAO in possession of the ESD data?

A: SAO was reviewing all claims data as part of an audit of a fraud incident that occurred at ESD in early 2020. Auditing in all its forms requires us to handle sensitive information – some financial, some personal. We strongly believe our work, and our access to that data, has helped improve government for Washingtonians.

Q: Have the police or other authorities been notified?

A: Yes. Appropriate law enforcement agencies have been notified. Our primary concern is making sure this incident is fully investigated, and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.

Get caught up with the year that was with ULP’s 2020 Newsletter

Coming Together During Uncertain Times

Image from Vecteezy

By Behnaz Mansouri, Senior Attorney, and Erin O’Brien, Legal Assistant

Established in 1984, the Unemployment Law Project prides itself on being a fierce advocate for those struggling to secure unemployment benefits. 2020 has been a painful and trying time for all of us. Full of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, political strife, and economic hardship, each and every one of us has made sacrifices and experienced unexpected losses. We want to acknowledge and honor those sacrifices and losses, whether it’s the mental framework for the life you thought you’d be living this year, the loss of your home and livelihood, or the devastating loss of a loved one. We also want to take a moment to express our gratitude and admiration for the people who make the expansion of our work possible.

With the aid of additional grant funding and increased donations this year, the Unemployment Law Project increased staffing capacity by more than 300%. Each month ULP staff receive and respond to hundreds of calls and emails from individuals needing assistance filing their claim, responding to overpayment notices, contacting ESD or seeking representation for their appeal hearing.

To further educate people on the constant evolution of pandemic unemployment assistance, ULP has hosted over 30 weekly webinars. Our webinars have also been inclusive for communities of color, conducted in various languages, and addressed the needs of specific professional groups. While our staffing size has increased, ULP continues to rely heavily on the contributions of private attorneys. Throughout 2020, twenty-five (25) attorneys participating in the ULP Pro Bono Program vigorously represented 118 people who appealed their denial of benefits. With the establishment of the Emergency UI Claimant Representation Program, managed by ULP and funded by the Office of Civil Legal Aid, over 60 private attorneys have energetically responded to our call to action for increased representation of clients during an appeal hearing.

The Unemployment Law Project is proud of the successful advocacy work we have accomplished this year to support Washingtonians, and we would not have been able to achieve these great heights without the partnerships built within our vibrant legal community.

A Small Bright Side of the 2020 Benefit Program Breakdowns: Media Attention to Claimants’ Plights

By Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director

It may have started with hiring our webmaster Andy Paroff in March. Acquiring a Zoom account and holding weekly webinars from April to the present probably helped. Participating in a lawsuit against the Employment Security Department might well have been the decisive factor. Whatever the triggers, ULP has been progressively upping its game in the media and on the web over this past year. And we believe that’s been a good thing for claimants.

Unemployment insurance is normally a side-issue in the press, although during recessions it can occupy center stage. But the sudden, massive surge of unemployment that the pandemic brought this year pushed UI and its failings in Washington state under an especially unsparing spotlight. Our Employment Security Department took a beating in the media as scam artists posing as legitimate claimants made off with more than $500 million in benefit payments and claims became bogged down by understaffed phone lines, IT problems, interminable processing delays, and a paralyzed appeals process.

Even though ULP focuses on Washington State claimants, it is the country’s only state legal aid organization devoted solely to unemployment issues. So alongside the flood of calls from claimants seeking help with benefits applications, ULP staff found ourselves getting calls for comment from dozens of outlets ranging from KING5 News, Politico, and the Seattle Times to NPR’s Marketplace, CNN, and the New York Times. In many cases, ULP clients agreed to tell their stories to reporters as well.

For senior attorney Behnaz Mansouri, an early caller was CNN, covering the claims processing delays back in March when two months seemed like a long wait. As she told the network, many claimants are non-native English speakers and do not hold traditional jobs, making it especially challenging for them to navigate the system. “It’s convoluted. It’s unclear. It’s unprecedented,” she said, adding that many people who receive denial letters may not return and apply for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. In August, the web news magazine Politico aired Behnaz’s concern about the loss of the $600 per week PUC benefit. The year “has been made bearable by this patchwork of financial assistance,” she said. “And now without it, I fear, it’s going to become unbearable.”

Andra Kranzler, an attorney working with ULP, explained to KIRO Radio in a July interview how applicants may be wrongly blamed for innocent errors. “You can’t really change your answer if you make a mistake or you don’t understand the question, and there’s not really an easy way to fix it,” Andra said. The inability to reach a human at ESD for explanation compounds the problem, she pointed out, since a single error on a form can land a person in the adjudication process or force them to appeal, cutting them off from funds for months.

Spokane’s Spokesman Review featured ULP Spokane managing attorney Juliana Repp in May, recounting how her tribal heritage and disabilities of a family member had helped fuel her passion for the underdog. Because so many claimants have found ESD unreachable, the ULP office often gives advice on the regulations and on the process of pursuing a claim—but at times also serves as a sympathetic sounding board for frustrated claimants, Julie explained to the newspaper. “They’re trying to figure out why the process hasn’t gone smoother, and they’re anxious because they don’t know where their check is.”

In June, Oregon Public Broadcasting focused on how offsetting benefits can have dire outcomes for low-income people and missing a piece of mail with a hearing date or appeals deadline could mean getting stuck with an overpayment of $500, $15,000, or more. “Then interest is added and wages are garnished. Bank accounts are attached, tax refunds are intercepted, and liens are placed on property,” ULP executive director John Tirpak told OPB. “And during the pandemic, in spite of our advocacy, they are still collecting overpayments in Washington state.” Since the local economy contracted, “Hundreds of people have called asking ULP for help every week,” the station also reported, quoting John. “Many people have run through their savings. Some have moved out of state.”

Perhaps the most surprising—but welcome—development for ULP has been our raised profile on social networks, thanks to Andy and to ULP Farmworker Fellow Lavena Staten. ULP has been actively doing outreach to print, broadcast, and online media to clarify the confusing alphabet soup of benefit programs and to explain fuzzy or downright misleading parts of the online benefit application. With help from law student and ULP intern Kristen Moran, Lavena broke new ground for ULP when she posted several quick TikTok videos with these goals in both English and Spanish—with some even going viral. At last count, Lavena’s video on overpayments had won 80,000 TikTok views and was picked up by a Seattle TV news station as well.

The pandemic continues, and although the unemployment spikes seen in March and April are unlikely to recur, the nation remains under a siege of joblessness. Amid the countless policy debates that lie ahead, ULP intends to do our best to keep the need for reform of unemployment benefit programs front and center.

Spokane Benefit a Success

Spokane Unemployment Law Project through Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney and John Tirpak, Executive Director, hosted a magical benefit event on January 23, 2020, at the Community Building. It was a wonderful night of food, music and over thirty unique auction items donated by the Spokane community. Against a backdrop of music by the renowned Craig Catlett Jazz Quartet, participants enjoyed a delightful array of appetizers from Fery’s catering with wine, beer and soft drinks. Mikayla Goodwin and Andy Paroff, ULP interns, were integral in making this night a success. Our sponsors included: Breean Beggs, Paukert and Troppmann LLC; Winston & Cashatt; Machinists Union, District 751; Cooney Law Offices; United Steelworkers Local 338; and the Law Office of D.C. Cronin. Former managing attorneys, Laurie Powers and Monica Holland and numerous former interns, also joined us at the event. Thank you to all, who made this such an enjoyable evening.

Rising to the Challenge: Working at the Unemployment Law Project in Unprecedented Times

By Rachel Platin, Spokane Lead Legal Intern

Like almost everything lately, working at the Unemployment Law Project was a different experience this year than anyone could have expected. Like many other students, I had a different legal internship lined up for the summer – only for COVID to cancel it at the last minute. Thankfully, I got connected with the Managing Attorney at the Spokane office, Juliana Repp, and was able to start working at ULP.

Due to the safety concerns surrounding the pandemic, our office has been working almost fully remotely. In fact, I have been working for ULP since May and have not met my coworkers in person or even been to the ULP office yet. Not your typical internship experience. However, what I have learned and the people I have been able to help have made it an incredibly rewarding experience. I have been really inspired by the adaptation and resilience of the Spokane office during this time. We have several weekly zoom meetings and frequent phone calls and emails; I often forget that I am not in the office with everyone. It is helpful that all our hearings are held on the phone anyways, as is standard practice for the Office of Administrative Hearings. I worked on a Superior Court brief earlier this summer and I was able to have the opportunity to be present at the hearing via Zoom. Had it been normal times, I likely would not have been able to attend the hearing as it would have been on the other side of the state. I am looking forward to rotating with other interns and getting to spend some time in the office (safely)!

We are seeing an unprecedented number of unemployment claims during the past 8 months. More and more people are out of work and most of the cases we have been getting are somewhat COVID-related. Very rarely do we get cases that are just natural, cyclical unemployment issues. I find that it is often difficult to separate the emotions and the work from each other, as the claimants who are calling our office for help are becoming more and more desperate for help. I have had many claimants who are calling from their cars where they now live, have kids doing online school in the background, or are down to their last dollar to feed their family. Most phone calls we get are from people just so glad to get a real person on the phone, as it is virtually impossible to get ahold of the Employment Security Department with the number of claims the agency is dealing with. I am thankful for the existence of the Unemployment Law Project and the incredible work that this organization does to help those who need it the most. I have learned the most from hearing my claimants’ stories. I am incredibly interested in how societies function and how every person plays a part in society and hearing the personal stories from claimants in every single industry has been very eye-opening. Most of these workers are the backbone of society, including truck drivers, suppliers, hospitality workers, etc. and I have gained a great deal of appreciation for them during the pandemic that I will be sure to hold moving forward. I am thankful to be in a position to help advocate for their unemployment benefits and also work on several policy projects with ULP to try and improve the unemployment insurance system in the future.

Historic Victory for Washington Workers

Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

By Lavena Staten, SU Farmworker Fellow

Last month, the Washington Supreme Court decided that dairy workers in Washington are entitled to overtime pay when they work over 40 hours in a week. This decision was monumental. Excluding agricultural and domestic workers from overtime pay and other worker protections stems directly from slavery, a history acknowledged in Justice Steven González’s concurring opinion. At the state level, Washington’s Minimum Wage Act explicitly excludes agricultural workers from overtime. RCW 49.46.130(2)(g). Meanwhile, a shortage of agricultural laborers in Washington means fewer workers working longer hours.

Now, the highest court in the state has determined that excluding dairy workers from overtime laws violates the privilege and immunities clause of the Washington State Constitution. The majority opinion states that “all Washington workers in dangerous industries” have a fundamental right “to receive workplace health and safety protections.” The Court reasoned such protections dampen employer desires to force employees to work excessive hours for too low of pay. While the court focuses on non-seasonal dairy workers, the underlying statutory issue and additional analysis may apply more broadly to all agricultural workers. Meanwhile, the dissent argued that no workers have a right to overtime under the Washington constitution.

And agricultural employers responded with empty threats of increased automation and a disproportionate impact on small farms. However, many of Washington’s biggest crops–including hops, cherries, pears, and berries–require delicate picking that can only be achieved through human labor. Further, small farms are in much more danger from increasing concentration and consolidation of agricultural inputs, processing, food manufacturing, and food retail companies, which use their size to control small farms and eventually lead to their downfall.

Requiring overtime protections for farmworkers is a monumental step in confronting the racism and inequality in our economy, but it is not the final hurdle for those who work in agriculture: farmworkers are constantly exposed to toxic pesticides on the job and they are ten times more likely to die at work than the average worker. Nationally, farmworker families make $17,000 per year on average. Washington and the federal government must do more to protect the workers who feed us.

Advocating for Clients During a Pandemic

By Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney, Spokane ULP

When Covid-19 hit, I wasn’t sure how I would train the incoming interns/externs for the Spokane ULP Office due to limitations on occupancy in the Community Building. We improvised and held many zoom meetings. Claimants were patient and understood that part of what we do at ULP is teach and mentor interns on how to represent claimants during all facets of their cases including representing them at their appeal hearings within the Office of Administrative Hearings. Claimants had no qualms about six interns sitting in on zoom meetings, pre-hearing conferences and hearings, to learn how to advocate for them. In the midst of a months-long pandemic, teaching and working by zoom, email and limited in-office work, a formidable legal aid team was formed.

Glory Crocco
Glory is a second-year law student at University of Mississippi School of Law. Glory began working at ULP in May 2020 and noted that working with the Spokane office team has been the best part of her experience, along with being able to help claimants across the state.

Emily Ganz
Emily Ganz is a second-year student at Gonzaga University School of Law. Emily loves working at the Unemployment Law Project, where she can closely communicate with clients and hone her skills as an advocate.

Sarah Bodisco
Sarah is an undergraduate at Gonzaga studying Economics and Political Science. In her free time, you can find her reading (her favorite authors are John Krakaur and Kurt Vonnegut), biking the Centennial Trail, or lounging by the ocean/river/any available body of water. Sarah started at ULP in June of 2020, and noted that it has been a really unique experience to only have worked and interacted with other staff virtually. She believes it has pushed us all to be extra diligent and work hard for our community in need.

Rachel Platin
Rachel is a 3L student at Gonzaga University School of Law. A native of Seattle, Rachel has fallen in love with Spokane and intends to stay on this side of the state after graduation and work in employment law. She began working at ULP in May 2020 and loves her coworkers at the Spokane office and helping as many people as possible with their unemployment issues. In her free time, she loves hiking, skiing, biking, and spending time with friends and family.

Wesley Groot
Wesley is a second-year student at Gonzaga University School of Law. Wesley started working with the Unemployment Law Project in May of 2020, and has found the work to be incredibly fulfilling, especially during a time with record unemployment. He enjoys working for a firm dedicated to lending assistance to those in need.

Jakob Salazar
Jakob is a second-year student at Gonzaga University School of Law. He joined the ULP team in May 2020 and was immediately moved by the compassion and dedication of my colleagues, as well as the often heartbreaking stories of our clients. He is continually inspired by the perseverance and equanimity of so many of our clients as they struggle through the unprecedented unemployment-related difficulties resulting from the global pandemic. He feels like ULP provides a necessary service to the community by giving a voice to unemployed workers and helping them get back on their feet, and he is proud to contribute to that service.

Thanks from the Director

By John Tirpak, Executive Director

2020 has been an unprecedented year for ULP. We have been able to increase our client services due to your support.

We would like to thank the Sheridan Law Firm for their work on the Petition for the Writ of Mandamus. Special thanks to Jack Sheridan, Justin Abassi, Andra Kranzler, and Tony Dondero. The court hasn’t ruled on the case yet, but we expect a ruling in the coming year.

Special thanks to the Office of Civil Legal Aid, the Legal Foundation of Washington, King County, and the Washington State Labor Council for increased support during the COVID-19 crisis.

Our Brew Review Onvine event was a big success. Thanks to our sponsors: MacDonald Hoague & Bayless, Barnard Iglitzen & Lavitt, Terrell Marshall Law Group, Breskin Johnson & Townsend, Chipmonkey Wine, and Revolution Repair.

If you want to support the work of ULP, please contact me at for more information.

The Unemployment Law Project Team

John Tirpak, Executive Director/Attorney
Juliana Repp, Spokane Managing Attorney
Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director
Hyun-Ji Lee, Staff Attorney
Behnaz Mansouri, Senior Attorney
Katelyn Morgaine, Staff Attorney
Meg Bridewell, Staff Attorney
Andra Kranzler, Staff Attorney
Lavena Staten, SU Farmworker Fellow
George Leach, UW Employment Equity & Access Fellow
Ahmed Abdi, Outreach Coordinator
Jason Arends, Office Manager/Paralegal
Erin O’Brien, Legal Assistant
Stephan Elmer, Legal Assistant
Jill Cornaggia, Spokane Paralegal

Joseph Shaeffer, President
Jennifer Murray, Vice President
Jeneé Jahn, Treasurer
Eric Gonzalez, Secretary
Amanda Ballantyne
Lillian Kaide
Andres Munoz
Erin Pettigrew
Jennifer Yogi

Aaron Chatterjee
Abe Ritter
Alex Ellis
Alexia Diorio
Alexis Chouinard
Alexis Mei
Alisa Smith
Alizeh Bhojani
Almira Jane De La Cruz-Butler
Alyssa Krueger
Andy Paroff
Andy Sacks
Angie Weiss
Anna Marie Shearlock
Annie Holden
Asha Abdulle
Ashley Gomez
Austin Field
Behnaz Mansouri
Ben Ushka
Brian Carmichael
Caleb Carr
Carly Zipper
Chenelle Love
Chloe Merino
Chris Hendry
Chrissy Svihus
Clive Pontusson
Cortney Feniello
David Ringold
David Totten
Dean Lawrence Petitta
Deborah Sundblad
Deepak George
Devin Hogan
Devon Nikfard
Dustin Vail
Elizabeth Clampitt
Ellie White
Emily Ganz
Eric Nusser
Erin O’Brien
Estey Chen
Gabrielle Ayala-Montgomery
Gelline Nicolas
Glory Crocco
Gregory Skidmore
Hanna Choi
Hannah Aho
Hannah Driscoll
Ian Cairns
Iris Yan
Isabel Skilton
Isabell Rocha
Jaclyn Tani
Jagdeep Sekhon
Jakob Salazar
Jaqueline Beltran
Jennifer Seely
Jessica Cable
Jessie Miglarese
Joel Nichols
John Curry
Joseph Sims
Julia Fleming
Justine Taylor Yarington
Kathryn Penrod
Katie Dimsho
Kay Fuhlman
Kelly Rutledge
Kristen Moran
Kyle Madsen
Lauren Berkowitz
Lauren Mamaghani
LeAnn McDonald
Lin Li
Madeline Crowley
Marielle Maxwell
Maya Itah
Megan Lee
Mikayala Goodwin
Mitchell West
Molly Utter
Morgan Robertson
Nasrin Chaudhry
Nate Blanchard
Nathanial Putnam
Nicole Lundholm
Nina Mesihovic
Oliver Batkoff
Olivia Bloom
Pam Crone
Rachel Horvitz
Rachel Platin
Robert Bulanda
Roberto White
Romana Bruderer-Schwab
Sara Suryan
Sarah Bodisco
Sayer Rippey
Selena Ng
Silvan Schuttner
Sophie Geguchadze
Spencer Satin
Stepen Jay Hatton
Stephan Elmer
Victoria Banks
Victoria Ha Nguyen
Wesley Groot
Yinbing Lin
Ysabel Mullarky
Zoe Wood

[VIDEO & GUIDE] Answering the question: “Are you available for work?”

A question in the applications process has created confusion and kept some people from receiving unemployment insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. It has to do with a basic requirement of PUA and UI in general: You must be available to work. This document is not intended to give legal advice. Instead, it is meant to provide some guidance while applying for benefits. Please view the complete guide below or watch this video for more information!