TRACY, Calif. - A laid-off Tesla employee who got so frustrated about not being able to get through to the Employment Development Department that he hired a bot to make automated phone calls has finally gotten paid, more than a year later.
"I feel great, I can finally breathe," Desmond Sylva of Tracy said Tuesday morning. He said he received an EDD debit card for about $5,000 for 10 weeks of pay he was owed from July 2020 after he was laid off from the Tesla plant in Fremont as a production associate.
But it wasn't a bot that helped him.
It was a human in state Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua's office.
An aide there was able to get through to the EDD almost immediately on Friday where an agent lifted the flag on his file. In addition to filing for unemployment, Sylva had also filed for disability and that designation was never removed. Therefore, he said, the paperwork was never pushed through. The problem was resolved on Monday.
In a statement, Villpudua's office said it's too bad that getting help from the EDD has been so difficult, adding that they were grateful they could help "connect people with these desperately needed resources."
Until Sylva had called the assemblyman's office, he hadn't had any luck himself, or with the $50 bot he hired. The bot had eventually gotten through to the EDD, but reached the wrong department.
A settlement last month mandated that the EDD must now stop freezing benefits for people whose existing claims have eligibility questions and instead must continue sending checks while they investigate the problem. However, lawyers who sued the EDD said they are aware that this is not happening for everyone.
Meanwhile, local lawmakers have become reluctant "EDD social workers," devoting staff time to solving unemployment problems by doing the painstaking work themselves and coordinating with special EDD liaisons to their office.
The EDD, where agents only answer a fraction of the 2 million to 3 million calls each week, does not advise people to call repeatedly. Doing that just clogs an overclogged system.
In an email, the EDD said it "never encourages folks to pay for services they can get for free."
"We understand how challenging it can be to get through to the call center and we are working hard to pay claims, resolve issues, and enhance our ability to serve our claimants – including providing valuable information on our website and in YouTube videos to address the most common questions we receive," the email stated.
The EDD also set up a customer call-back function where people who have waited more than 15 minutes in a queue can have the EDD call them back.
For now, Sylva said he is both infuriated and gratified that he was paid the money he was owed in a matter of days with a well-placed phone call.
"It's crazy how you have to go through this," he said. " A lot of people end up giving up. Especially younger people. They just don't know what to do."