(cont'd from above)
Police said the incident began when state employees in the welfare office closed the doors at 5 p.m. to go home. At the time, there was a line of about 20 people still waiting to pick up unemployment checks and apply for unemployment benefits. Sgt. Sturges said that state employees told those waiting that the office would open again at 8 a.m. the next day and to come back then. The crowd reacted poorly to the news, Sturges said. When employees of the welfare office attempted to leave the building, the crowd attacked them.
“This is an unfortunate incident,” said Koshi Chen, spokesperson for the Labor Department. “Given the state’s current budget crisis, our employees have been given a strict ‘no overtime policy.’ The employees of the welfare office simply were complying with this directive.”
Chen added, “That said, we are sympathetic to our clients. Employees are given the discretion to stay on duty when the need arises, such as when there is a line of clients waiting to be served at the end of the day. But just because they didn’t, that is no reason for anyone to become violent.”
Currently, unemployment is at 13 percent in Metrocity, one of the highest of any metropolitan area in the country.
Margaret Lacroix, one of the people waiting in line when the office closed, said “We had been there since lunch time. And eventhough the line was long, they were taking their own sweet time handing out checks. We asked them to hurry up, but they didn’t care. When they closed the door, I was just two people away. I need my money. I got no food. My baby needs her food! Now, how am I going to get food without no check?”
Lacroix was not among those arrested, but she was sympathetic to those who were. “It’s just not fair,” said Lacroix. “Those folks in the welfare office treat us like garbage.”
When asked why there was no security provided at the Labor Department, Sgt. Sturges said “It’s a state office and state troopers are assigned that duty.”
A state police spokesperson said the state and the city have a verbal agreement that city officers are responsible for security at the building.
The mayor’s office issued a statement that the matter will be taken up with the city’s police chief Isabel Medina. The statement also said the mayor will recommend that Pravda Security, which provides security services to all of the city’s buildings, be contracted to handle similar duties at the state office buildings in Metro City.
Both sides wanted different things. One side wanted to go home. The other side wanted their checks. The opposing desires exploded into rioting outside the State Department of Labor office on Main Street yesterday.
Twelve people were arrested on a variety of charges -- assault, breach of peace, and vandalism -- in what eyewitnesses described as a “riot” outside the state building.
“It was crazy,” said Eddie Winters, who works at the Starlite convenience store across the street from the DOL. “I heard some shouting. Didn’t give it no mind. Then I heard the sound of breaking glass. Someone had tossed a garbage can through the window. Then all hell broke loose!”
Police spokesperson Sgt. David Sturges said several state employees were beaten, resulting in assortment of bruises and contusions. One woman had her arm broken.