<– Marlene Giersdorf protests that she was cut off from unemployment insurance payments after she refused to look for a job in another city citing transportation issues. The 30-year-old resident of Lower Montague is the first visible victim of the federal government’s Employment Insurance cutbacks. After finally getting her first EI check at the end of November, she’s now being cut off because she won’t go to Charlottetown to work
Marlene Giersdorf, single mother of a nine-year-old from Montague, P.E.I., is the first person known to be cut off Employment Insurance under a change of rules. As of this month, some recipients will lose benefits unless they are willing to work for 70% of their previous wage, commute for an hour or more and accept any job meeting those conditions. Ms. Giersdorf, 30, was recently told she was being cut off because of “an unwillingness to change your job demands,” and spent Monday morning protesting outside the city’s Service Canada building. A few months ago, she left a job at a nursing home with a doctor’s note citing stress from 60-hour work weeks. She said she has applied for many jobs in Montague, population just over 5,000, but hasn’t yet been able to find work. She spoke to the Post’s Katrina Clarke:
Q: How has your day been today? A: It’s been hectic. I was up there again protesting today right from the get-go. And now I’m reading comments online from the articles and stuff and it’s hitting hard. People are so judgmental.
Q: Why are you protesting? A: There’s still not enough information out to the public. I’m not a mooch; I’m not doing this to start an argument. I’m doing this for the people that it’s going to hurt and it’s going to hurt bad — because I don’t want to see it happen.
Q: What’s the reaction you’re getting from others in your community? A: A lot of honks, a lot of waves. Today alone people were offering me coffees and doughnuts and support. They all understand that there’s going to be a lot of people hit hard.
Q: Why don’t you apply in Charlottetown? A: I could probably make a living in Charlottetown, but due to the fact that I do only rely on family and close, close, close friends that I don’t have a lot of, I’d be ruined personally. And my child, I fought tooth and nail with my ex to have him go to Montague [Consolidated School]. If I relocated into Charlottetown, who’s going to drive all the way from Montague to drive me in the summertime, when my son’s not in school, to pick him up? You know, I have 50/50 custody. I would have no transportation whatsoever, I would have to rely on cabs.
Q: If you were to get a job in Charlottetown that paid well, would you be able to get a car? A: No. I wouldn’t be able to even make it to the job to make enough money to get a car. And if I was hired on in Charlottetown I’d have to refuse the job because I wouldn’t be able to guarantee that I could get to my shifts everyday.
Q: What sort of jobs were you working before? A: I have worked every kind of job possible. I have worked as a farm labourer, I was at the fish plant, I was at Subway and worked my way up to assistant manager. You know, I can’t always have a job. My son is always looking for me because we only see each other half the week. When I was working I was doing 12 hour night shifts. I didn’t have any days off on the days that he was home. He would come home and I’d stay awake all day and then work all night.
Q: Do you think another time of the year would be easier to get a job? A: The spring, yes. Because I could go to the farm work. I could travel 15 minutes out of the way and someone could drop me off a little bit early on their way to work. I have done that in the past.
Q: Have you been offered any jobs since you went on EI? A: No. When somebody quits here they usually have a friend or family member lined up to replace them. That’s what happens on a small place like P.E.I. They already know if so-and-so quits that they’re going to be replaced with this person because they’re next in line, they’re who they know. You know I’m not out in the public all the time. I stay at home because I don’t have money. I don’t have anything.
Q: So you have no income? A: No income. And if I spend the 100 bucks that I’m sitting on right now for my son’s lunch to go look for work… I won’t.
Q: Have you had EI before? A: Yes. Five or six times maybe. Most of it’s all sick benefits from when I needed a break and then switched onto regular benefits until I could find a job and yes, I did find a job.
Q: Why this form of protest? A: I’m almost stripped of my dignity and what pride I did have. I have nothing to lose, I’m left on nothing. And I might even lose my kid because I’m taking these steps.
Q: What are you most afraid of? A: That I’m going to lose my son, my custody. That’s all that I have.
This Q&A has been edited and condensed. National Post