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Answering the Call: 20 Years of Conversations With America’s Workforce

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A restaurant worker was laid off during the pandemic and wanted help filing for unemployment insurance. The owner of a construction company needed to report an injury in the workplace. A hotel manager had their hours reduced and was interested in enrolling for COBRA health insurance coverage. They all needed help, but weren’t sure where to start.

We get it. Navigating the many programs and services offered by the U.S. Department of Labor can be overwhelming — especially for those facing work-related crises.

That’s why, for the past 20 years, the Department of Labor’s National Contact Center has been providing toll-free information for  workers, employers, and anyone who has questions about employment, unemployment, wages, workplace safety and health, pension and health benefits and much, much more.

We’re proud to have connected with hundreds of millions of people over the past two decades, and in many cases, to have served as the first point of contact in the Department for those seeking critical services. We take this responsibility seriously and are honored to be on the front lines of fulfilling the department’s mission — one phone call and email message at a time.

And there has never been a time that our services were more in demand — or more critical — than during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the coronavirus surged across the country and millions of Americans became unemployed or in need of employment guidance, we faced an unprecedented volume of inquiries. Our daily call volumes soared from an average of about 2,500 calls a day to more than 7,750 and, in Fiscal Year 2020 alone, we received over 2.8 million calls and over 60,000 emails.

At first, this massive increase in call volume overwhelmed our telecom circuits and exceeded our data center capacity limits, but like the resilient workers and employers we speak with every day, we carried on and adapted. First, we prioritized the health and safety of our own workers by implementing 100% remote work for all of our staff. Then we then increased our server capacities, streamlined our processes, and developed new resources to address COVID-related inquiries. These steps enabled customer service representatives to handle twice as many calls during a normal shift, while also preventing burnout.

Though the pandemic challenged our team and our capacity, we know that the American public has also faced immeasurable challenges and we are committed to helping everyone identify the resources they need to thrive at work and beyond. In our next 20 years, we’re excited to continue to find new ways to connect with and serve our customers .

Thank you for coming to us with your questions, and we look forward to talking to you for years to come!

Learn more about the National Contact Center and specific Department of Labor resources online, or call 1-866-USA-DOL (1-866-487-2365.)

Tanya Lowe is the director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Contact Center.

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