SAINT PAUL – Hourly school employees across Minnesota expressed excitement that HF1054, a bill that updates state law so hourly school employees would be eligible for unemployment insurance, looked likely to pass off the House floor Tuesday for the first time ever.
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 because of a decades-old law that doesn’t allow them access. These jobs are often done by women and most have been highlighted as “essential” during this pandemic when they’ve helped to keep schools running.
Hourly school employees across race, place, and jobs have spoken out about the need to fix this outdated law that makes it hard for Minnesotans to be able to make ends meet doing this critical work. Hourly school employees from across the state spoke out ahead of the vote to highlight why the House passing this bill is so important to support school staff and students.
“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. These jobs are our livelihood, we love doing them – but it is difficult to make ends meet, because the hours are so inconsistent during the school year and especially the summer,” said Teresa Jakubowski, a school bus driver in Rosemount and member of SEIU Local 284. “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.”
“The financial hit from being unemployed part of the summer is still causing ripples. I had a zero-dollar budget for Christmas. I’ve had to put off medical treatments. I’m still catching up on some bills,” said Tracey Trouten, an information technology education support professional in Osseo Area Schools and Education Minnesota member. “Having access to unemployment insurance during the summer months, if needed, will help keep hourly workers like myself in the profession that we love and keep skilled and dedicated employees working in the places that need them.”
“Last summer, I was unable to receive any unemployment help when the school year ended and I lost my other jobs. My job as a clerk at a middle school prevented me from receiving the help I needed. I know I wasn’t alone in having to do what I had to so I could make ends meet,” said Rochelle Stoffel, a Middle School Clerk with SPPS and member of AFSCME Local 844, Council 5. “We feel that we’ve been penalized for the work that we do. We need to reform our UI system so my coworkers and I don’t fall through the cracks again. I’m fearful that without change, I’ll be in the exact same position I was in a year ago.”
“In 2020 my family lost almost $5,000 of income compared to the prior year, putting more stress on myself and my family during an already stressful time,” said Rachel Godnai, a Paraprofessional in Cloquet Schools ISD 94 who is a member with AFSCME LOCAL 545 Council 65.. “I love the work I do, but we must make it a little more stable and secure so people like me can stay in these jobs for years to come.”
Despite bipartisan support, including Republican Sen. Jason Rarik as the lead author, the Minnesota Senate has so far not moved this important bill to support essential workers in schools across our state.
SEIU Local 284, Education Minnesota, AFSCME Council 5, AFSCME Council 65, Teamsters Local 320