Protesting P.E.I. single mother wins EI appeal

A Montague, P.E.I., woman who received national attention after her employment insurance claim was denied has won her appeal.

Marlene Giersdorf became the face of EI changes after her 1-woman protest

Marlene Giersdorf said she plans to continue protesting as a way to show her opposition to the new changes to the EI program. (CBC)

A Montague, P.E.I., woman who received national attention after her employment insurance claim was denied has won her appeal.

Marlene Giersdorf, a 30-year-old single mother, became the face of EI changes in early January when she held a one-woman protest outside the Service Canada office in Montague after her benefits were cut off.  

Giersdorf said she was denied EI because she didn't have transportation to accept work in Charlottetown, nearly 50 kilometres away. She doesn't own a car and doesn't have access to public transportation.  

Giersdorf received a letter from the federal government on Monday, reinstating her benefits.  

"It felt good," she said. "But in the long run I still don't understand why I had to go through the process that I did for a month and a half just to get EI back."      

Giersdorf has been protesting outside the Service Canada office for weeks and said she plans to continue as a way to show her opposition to changes to the EI program.  

"I actually thought it might encourage others to stand up and voice what they're going through. It's not just about me, it's the fact that it's going to affect two-parent homes, it's going to affect single-parent homes, it's going to affect people just living by themselves," she said.

Under the new regulations, several factors such as type of work, wages, commuting time, working conditions, hours of work, and personal circumstances, are now considered when defining "suitable employment."

In determining these criteria, EI claimants are now placed in one of three categories:

  • Long-tenured workers: "Those who have paid at least 30 per cent of the annual maximum EI premiums for seven of the past 10 years and who, over the last five years, have collected EI regular or fishing benefits for 35 weeks or less."
  • Frequent claimants: "Those who have had three or more claims for EI regular or fishing benefits and have collected benefits for a total of more than 60 weeks in the past five years."
  • Occasional claimants: "All other claimants."

Story touches people across Canada

Giersdorf's story resonated across the country. Some people in Ontario took up a collection to buy her a car, though she said she couldn't accept it.  

"I don't see how I could consciously agree to accept a car given to me from the public ... I don't expect people to hand me things on a silver platter just because I was out there protesting. I did it just for morale and support because it shouldn't happen to anybody," she said.  

She said some people even gave her money. Giersdorf said she donated that money to the Montague food bank.  

She spoke to the CBC radio show Maritime Noon on Tuesday about her experience.  

"I've learned that it's tricky," she said. "But everybody has the right to stand up for what they feel is right."  

Giersdorf said she is now looking toward a future that doesn't include being on EI. She said she's in the process of applying to get into a resident care worker course at Charlottetown's Holland College in the fall.   

"I would like to feel like I'm never going to end upon EI again," she said.

Lori MacKay, the president of CUPE PEI, said the protest drew attention to the problems with the EI changes and how many grey areas exist.  

MacKay also said she believes Giersdorf's very public protest, likely fast tracked her EI appeal.

EI can be restored if work search resumes: HRDC

In response to this story, a spokeswoman from Human Resources Minister Diane Finley's office said EI will continue to be available for people who qualify and are looking for work. "It has long been the case that people need to be looking for work and available in order to claim EI," said director of communications Alyson Queen. "Benefits will be reinstated if an individual resumes searching for work."