Don Weidner figured he had plenty of time to get some fresh air. "They just called number nine. I'm number 69," he said while standing outside the Illinois Department of Employment Security office on Elm Street. Weidner, a welder at Caterpillar Inc. in East Peoria, was among a large crowd of people hoping to claim unemployment benefits on Monday.
Don Weidner figured he had plenty of time to get some fresh air.
"They just called number nine. I'm number 69," he said while standing outside the Illinois Department of Employment Security office on Elm Street.
Weidner, a welder at Caterpillar Inc. in East Peoria, was among a large crowd of people hoping to claim unemployment benefits on Monday.
Buildings SS, NN and LL of the East Peoria Caterpillar complex that employs about 2,800 tractor and transmission workers is shut down for the week, which may explain the long lines at local unemployment offices, said Rick Doty, president of United Auto Workers Local 974 in East Peoria.
"Rolling layoffs have been going on since mid-December, but this is one of the first times a complete division has been shut down," he said.
Seats filled up quickly at the Peoria unemployment office on Monday, and many people opted to sit on the floor while waiting for their numbers to be called.
In Pekin, people lined up outside the office at least 30 minutes before it opened at 8:30 a.m.
"I came at 8, and there were already 20 or 25 people in line ahead of me," said CNC machine operator Rich, who asked to be identified only by his first name.
Rich, who works in Building LL in East Peoria, said he waited more than two hours for his number to be called.
"I could have called the hotline, but since my buddy was already coming, I decided to come with him," he said.
Rich and Weidner both said they will be laid off for a week in April and for six months or longer beginning in June. Caterpillar announced the June layoffs last week, which include more than 2,300 employees at five plants, including more than 900 in East Peoria.
The layoffs, which would bring the total number of workers laid off at Caterpillar facilities worldwide to more than 24,000, are "due to lower volumes and to bring production levels in line with demand," the company said.
Greg Rivara, communications manager for IDES, said he can't comment on specific employers but said the department works with large businesses and their labor organizations when a large number of employees is laid off.
Satellite unemployment offices are sometimes set up, but Doty said Caterpillar likely won't do that this time around because rolling layoffs allow workers to apply for benefits at different times.
Rivara said he encourages laid-off workers to apply online, especially when unemployment offices are busier than normal.
"Across the state, unemployment is up," Rivara said. "But as difficult as this sounds, people should remain positive. What people can do is create an opportunity to better position themselves for meaningful employment when the recession turns around. And we do know it will turn around."
Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or firstname.lastname@example.org.