Hourly school workers speak out ahead of first hearing for bill ensuring unemployment insurance 

Hourly school employees were joined by elected officials Monday morning ahead of the first committee hearing for HF1054, a bill that updates state law so hourly school employees would be eligible for unemployment insurance. Currently tens of thousands of dedicated school staff – the paraprofessionals, ESPs, bus drivers, food service workers and more who are the backbone of our schools – have no access to unemployment like most other workers in Minnesota, leaving them without pay during summer months.

Screen Shot 2021-03-03 at 10.43.57 AMOne of the speakers, was Teresa Jakubowski, a school bus for District 196 Rosemount and member of SEIU Local 284, shared why this legislation would be so important.

“It took the pandemic to raise the awareness that the current unemployment legislation discriminates against hourly paid school employees. This bill would end that discrimination that began almost 60 years ago. The people taking care of your children – bus drivers, paras, chaperones, cafeteria workers, janitors, hall monitors, secretaries – we all need the safety net of unemployment insurance,” said Jakubowski. “The next time you pass a parked school bus with a sign on it saying “hiring bus drivers,” ask yourself why are they always hiring? The answer: even though we are considered full time employees with benefits, it is a hard way to make a living. We, like everyone else, need and deserve access to unemployment and underemployment insurance benefits. We are speaking out today because we can literally no longer endure not having access to unemployment insurance in the summer.”

 Also speaking was Tracy Trouten, information technology education support professional in Osseo Area Schools and member of Education Minnesota, who shared the challenges faced by hourly school workers across Minnesota.

“I already live paycheck to paycheck. But this past year was harder than ever. I had a summer position lined up with the school district, but It was eliminated. Most people would qualify for unemployment insurance in that situation. But I was denied because state law doesn’t allow hourly school workers to collect unemployment insurance in the summer months,” said Trouten. “The financial hit from being unemployed part of the summer impacted me for months. I didn’t have money for Christmas because I was still trying to catch up. Hourly school workers like myself shouldn’t have to worry every summer about having access to employment.”

Rachel Godnai, a paraprofessional with developmental and cognitively delayed students who is a member of AFSCME Council 65 who lives in Cloquet, shared the challenges she has faced.

“When Covid-19 shut down Minnesota schools, it shut down two of my three jobs. I applied for Covid-19 Unemployment because, as I understood it, I should qualify since I lost two of my jobs as a direct result of Covid-19. I was sent denial letters, but not given a reason why. Had my second and third jobs been with Walmart and Target I would have qualified for unemployment when they were cut, including the Covid-19 benefits,” said Godnai. “The loss of that income continues to put more stress on myself and my family during an already stressful time. I love the work I do. However, we must make it a little more stable and secure if we want people like me to be able to stay in these jobs year after year.”

Multiple elected officials, including Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, Rep. Mohamud Noor and lead author Rep. Emma Greenman joined the press conference to show their support.

“The hardworking Minnesotans who transport, feed, educate, and care for our students deserve the same safety net as other workers,” said Rep. Greenman (DFL – Minneapolis), the author of the legislation. “Ending the exclusion of hourly school workers from the unemployment insurance program will help tens of thousands of hourly school employees, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck and are disproportionately women and people of color. This is a simple policy change to ensure they have what they need to provide for their families and can continue to do amazing work for our kids.”

Also speaking was Brian Aldes, Teamsters Local 320 Secretary Treasurer and Principal Officer, who spoke about the impact on the nearly 1200 school employees Teamsters Local 320 represents across Minnesota.

“This bill is a direct response to arbitrary layoffs, the continued threat of layoffs, and a significant difficulty to find summer jobs that our members have faced since the beginning of the Pandemic,” said Aldes. “Furthermore, Minnesota is facing a severe bus driver shortage and we don’t know what things will look like this summer for overcoming the Pandemic. We must protect our vital education infrastructure during academic and seasonal layoffs to ensure school support staff have the economic stability they deserve.”

The bill was included as part of the Unemployment Insurance Omnibus bill following today’s committee hearing and will next be heard in the Ways and Means Committee.

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