ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The General Manager of the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg sent a YouTube message to her furloughed employees last Friday, where she called Florida's broken unemployment system a "debacle" that has not gotten better over the months.


What You Need To Know

  • Vinoy GM calls Florida unemployment system an "unacceptable debacle"

  • Many Floridians still struggling to get unemployment benefits

  • Florida ranks as slowest state in the nation to process claims

"On April 17, we completed 100 percent well-check phone calls to each and every Vinoy family member. At that time, there was huge frustration with the State of Florida unemployment debacle," said G.M. Barbara Readey. "Here we are, a month later, and the debacle still remains for many, many of our ambassadors. It's unimaginable and unacceptable." ‚Äč

Readey heard first hand from her laid off employees who have been struggling for months to get their unemployment benefits. Many of those workers said they applied in mid-March and were found ineligible by the Department of Economic Opportunity without a reason.

The G.M. said the DEO sent a letter on Friday to the Vinoy's parent company, Marriott, stating the agency had made a mistake when it deemed scores of hotel employees ineligible.  

"Marriott headquarters received in writing from the Chief of Staff of the Florida unemployment department notification and admission that they have made errors," said Readey. "They inadvertently sent ineligibility notifications to many employees. They committed to reviewing and looking at the applications over again and correcting the situation. It can't happen soon enough."

The letter to Marriott was a rare admission from the state considering Governor Ron DeSantis has been blaming the unemployed who filed in March and haven't received benefits yet for submitting incomplete applications.

Vinoy restaurant server Heather Gordon was one of those employees who filed in mid-March, was deemed ineligible and had to resubmit her application at the end of April. Gordon lives with her boyfriend, who's also a Vinoy employee, the couple are going on their 9th week without any unemployment money from the state.

"To be told that it's our fault that we did this, it's just ridiculous. It's unacceptable, it's criminal and something needs to be done about what happened," Gordon said. "And not just to me but every Floridian out there that couldn't put food on their table for their kids, or themselves, or got eviction notices because they couldn't pay."

On Monday, Gordon said she checked the CONNECT website and saw the DEO finally deemed her eligible to receive benefits. The laid off Vinoy server has no idea when that first unemployment check will arrive.

Gordon said she belongs to a website called Marriott Survived where laid off workers from across the nation share unemployment information. Gordon said the vast majority of complaints about the system come from Florida.

"Extremely, disappointing," she said. "To be honest with you, sickening."

When it comes to processing claims through the first month of the pandemic, Florida ranks as the slowest state in the nation.