Galleria workers seek assistance, relocation

Nearly 300 displaced mall employees have applied for unemployment insurance benefits
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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When Pam Wilson heard about the fire at Westfield Galleria at Roseville, she originally thought the mall’s closure offered a welcome reprieve from her busy life. She works fulltime at Macy’s in the Galleria and attends classes at Sierra College. “But then I thought that was selfish,” Wilson said. “A lot of people rely on that pay to get them through.” After the fire erupted at the region’s largest shopping mall Oct. 21, representatives announced the immediate closure of the 1.3 million-square-foot structure, leaving the Galleria’s 2,500 workers worried about their employment status. Initially, 1,700 of these displaced workers were identified as potentially needing unemployment insurance benefits, but that number may decrease with the opening of 41 stores and restaurants Thursday morning, said Cheryl Davis, director of the Human Services division of Placer County Department of Health and Human Services. Nordstrom, Apple, Tiffany & Co., H&M, Sephora, Urban Outfitters, Gap, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Claire’s, Il Fornaio, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and the Cheesecake Factory were among the reopened businesses. About 200 stores and dining establishments remain closed, with some expected to open around Thanksgiving and others not for several months. As construction crews continue the clean up and rebuild, now-jobless people attempt to figure out their options. Some turned to a makeshift assistance center set up at the Office of Human Services in Rocklin last week, where California Employment Development Department (EDD) representatives helped impacted workers fill out unemployment forms and search for new jobs. The EDD announced it will extend this service into next week. Twelve people walked through the center’s door at 8 a.m. Monday morning seeking assistance. As of Thursday morning, 123 people had applied for unemployment benefits at the site, including 27 people who needed food stamps, Davis said. “The first few days were very busy but it’s been tapering off, probably since stores are reopening and businesses have reached out to employees to get them relocated,” Davis said. “Folks have been kind of in shock. One day you have a job and income and the next day you don’t.” Dan Stephens, public information officer for the Employment Development Department, said 290 claims total have been identified as disaster-related flags for the Galleria fire. That figure includes 179 residents of Placer County, 98 residents of Sacramento County, and a handful of others from Yuba, Nevada, El Dorado, Sutter, Solano, Kern, Shasta and San Francisco counties. In a state of emergency declaration Oct. 22, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance suspended for people now jobless as a direct result of the Galleria fire. The suspension means that applicants can receive benefits for their first week of unemployment instead of serving the first week as a non-compensable period. As for Wilson, she received a call from a Macy’s manager the day after the fire asking if she wanted to temporarily relocate to the department store’s nearby locations at Sunrise Mall or Arden Mall. She agreed to Sunrise. “I’m grateful for that offer to work somewhere else,” she said. Wilson, a Loomis resident, said she’s concerned that paying for gas to travel the extra 20 miles each day she works will become a financial burden. “I’m trying to stay positive,” Wilson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people. My phone is blowing up with people asking if I’m OK.” Another employee of a Galleria retailer, who asked to be referred by her first name Natasha, said she’s worried about the impact of the lost income on her education. The college student is supposed to graduate next semester and her paychecks covered tuition. Natasha refused to name her employer but said the local store employs seven people, and she has worked for the company for five years. “I had assumed that naturally my employer would take care of the employees since it was the employees’ loss as well,” she said. “However, after speaking to a representative from the company I have learned that they do not know what my future with the company will be, and will not be compensating me or my coworkers at all for the loss of pay for the hours we were already scheduled for this week and next (week) … I honestly believe this is a great injustice.” Employees displaced by the Galleria fire who reside in Placer County can apply for assistance programs through Human Services, including Food Stamps, Medi-Cal, CalWORKS, Employment Services, Medical Care Services Program and General Relief. Impacted employees who reside in neighboring counties can apply for services through the Human Services office in the county where they live. Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- What: Job fair for workers displaced by the Westfield Galleria fire When: 1-4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3. Resume critiquing will be available from 1-3:30 p.m. Where: University of Phoenix Roseville learning center, 516 Gibson Drive Cost: Free Info: A list of confirmed companies at the fair can be found Monday, Nov. 1 at Companies interested in attending the fair should contact Marcy Schmidt at