Narrator Anthony Brylski, who works for the State of Wisconsin in the department that handles unemployment insurance, talks about the shift to working remotely and the experience of going to vote in person during Wisconsin's April primary.
Narrator Name: Anthony Brylski
Interviewer Name: Danny Atwater
Date of interview: 4/15/2020
[00:00:00] - Start of interview
[00:00:34] - What is your Safer at Home story, and how does the pandemic relate to your work?
[00:03:13] - How much of your work time is taken up by unexpected callers?
[00:03:59] - How long have you been working from home, and what was it like before?
[00:05:14] - What is the personal effect on you of social distancing?
[00:06:30] - What do you see going on outside in your neighborhood?
[00:07:24] - Has your polling place changed?
[00:08:17] - How was voting different?
[00:09:04] - Anything else to share?
[START OF RECORDING]
Interviewer: My name is Danny Atwater, and I am a Library Assistant for Madison Public Library. This interview is being recorded as part of the Madison Living History Project Safer at Home Stories series. Today’s date is Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Now, to our storyteller. Please tell us your full name and how you would describe yourself.
Anthony Brylski: Anthony Brylski, I work for the Department of Workforce Development in the Unemployment Division , but as we’ll talk about, I’m not in the part of the unemployment division that everybody wants.
Interviewer: So, what is your safer at home story? And you already brought up your job. How does this pandemic relate to your work?
Anthony Brylski: Well, everybody in my department—almost—now works from home, so I took my computer home, got my dual monitors up, I’ve got a battery-powered headset that drives me crazy because it runs out of juice [laughs], and it only rings through the earpiece, so I have to have it on—it’s annoying, [laughs] but it’s not too bad. I work for the portion of the department where we help employers file their quarterly tax and wage reports, so it’s an important way to verify employee wages when they apply for benefits. It also is how we calculate how much unemployment tax is due from employers. During the pandemic, the department has gotten a lot, a lot, a lot of calls for unemployment benefits; we have literally cannibalized phone numbers within our department in order to provide more bandwidth to allow more claimants to call the benefits sector, and what they have not done is taken away my phone line because employers still need to report and we’re coming up on a quarterly deadline as well, so it’s considered essential enough. And I personally don’t know much of anything about the claimant side of things, but that doesn’t stop people from calling me anyway, because they crawl through our website and call every phone number, or email every email they see. So I am happy to help how I can, but I have to say up front what my limitations are, and most of them take it well, and some even appreciate what I can offer, and others get under my skin [laughs] because—I had one guy be mad that I even bothered to answer the phone at all because I wasn’t the person he wanted. And it also didn’t stop him from calling about four more times spread over a couple of days, but working on letting that stuff slide. I’m fielding calls and doing as much of my normal work as I can manage at the same time
Interviewer: How much of your time is taken up by dealing with people who have reached you unexpectedly versus you being able to do your normal work?
Anthony Brylski: It depends on the day. And it’s really tough to tell in advance which kind of day it’s going to be. Today I’d say like 30% of my time was dealing with callers, and, you know, it was like two out of three would be claimants. And as we get closer to the reporting deadline, I’ve got more employers calling me now. They need help with the online portal and sending their reports in electronically, and all that stuff. So that’s my ‘normal’ duties.
Interviewer: Anthony, how long have you been working from home and do you remember what things were like leading up to the working-from-home portion?
Anthony Brylski: Sure. This is week three for me, from home. We were one of the last portions of the department to work from home. There were other groups (like our auditors, for example) who would normally go out in person to talk to people, and obviously that didn’t stick for the crisis. So they tended to go home first; also my particular portion was real small, and as such it’s considered low-risk in terms of exposure to fellow employees, so we just got on the train last. What it was like before, I mean, we’d watch whole sections of the department just leave one at a time as more tech resources were available. My hang-up in particular was I had to have a headset that was compatible with our crazy phone system, and those were not easily available by the time they got to us.
Interviewer: So that’s sort of been the work side of things for you during this time. What has it been like personally during social distancing?
Anthony Brylski: One of the first things I tried to do was to buy a webcam, and by the time I thought of it, it was way too late [laughs]. But a friend of mine leant me one and he’s got one of his own anyway, so this one has been very reliable. The biggest things I miss are being able to go shopping just whenever. I, in contrast with a lot of people, have come into some fortunate money in a couple of places. I just got my federal payment that almost everybody’s getting, and I would like to spend it on things like a new set of shoes [laughs], or a haircut. Man, I really want a haircut [laughs], but I just can’t right now. So, I think this weekend, I’ll give myself a haircut and we’ll see how that turns out. I’m not looking to be real optimistic about the swirly bit on the back of my head [laughs].
Interviewer: When you look out the window right now, what do you see going on in your neighborhood, with your neighbors, or other people with social distancing?
Anthony Brylski: My neighborhood is fairly high-traffic, so I see people going in and out of local restaurants and walking past each other with their dogs. The runners use other streets than mine, but they’re still out pretty regularly. I went out to go vote in person because by the time I thought I wanted an absentee ballot, it seemed pretty late to get one, and I didn’t trust that I’d get one on time, so I wrapped a scarf around my head three times, I fastened it in the back with a binder clip, and went off to the polls, and that was an experience.
Interviewer: Is that your regular polling location, or did it change?
Anthony Brylski: Mine was the same, and it’s real local, I can just walk there, but that was an experience because people reacted to me so negatively. A lot of people wander around with masks and stuff, but I’m this big hulking figure and my normal profile is obscured, and people just took extra space to skitter around me, and it just felt awful. It makes me not want to go outside as much. So I have not joined the bandwagon and picked up a mask for myself; I tend to just do my grocery shopping at weird hours anyway, and avoid crowds, so I’m not as worried about that aspect of things.
Interviewer: How long did you have to wait to vote and what was different about voting this time?
Anthony Brylski: I only had like two people ahead of me. One of the benefits of getting to walk to your voting place is, I left right at everyone’s quitting time, so I just got there right ahead of the crowd. There was a line building up after I left, but yeah, there was big plexiglass sheets up for the main registration table where they look up your name, all the poll workers had masks and gloves on, and they asked that you bring your own pen, so, you know, it—most of the details were all the same, it was just a little bit extra harder.
Interviewer: Anthony, is there anything else that you would like to share about your safer at home story before we wrap up?
Anthony Brylski: I would say, if you’re calling a government agency, and they give you a number, just use that one [laughs].
Interviewer: Good advice. Well, Anthony, thank you for your time, and for sharing your story with us.
Anthony Brylski: Sure, thank you!
[END OF RECORDING]