Push for unemployment insurance for hourly employees

Positive movements were made on the house floor on Wednesday, making unemployment benefits available to hourly employees in Minnesota.

Legislators and educational support staff met to talk about the amendments made to House file 20/Senate file 32 Bill, which would allow hourly waged educational support staff to qualify for unemployment benefits. Current statute says these employees are not eligible.

ISD 196 Bus Driver, Kat Briggs, recalled her experience of why she chose to become a school bus driver. “I wanted to give back to my community. Growing up, I had the same bus driver from elementary through high school. Peggy, Bus 39. She knew my name, where I lived, and what my schedule was. She took me to and from school each and every day, as well as drove me to various athletic events and field trips. She was a great school bus driver, and I hope I make the same impact on my students that she made on me.”
A former educator and parent, Laura Carpenter, spoke about the importance of consistency in children’s development, stating, “Relationships are the foundation of our school communities, and our students need and deserve stability. Chronic understaffing has become a huge problem for families and schools across Minnesota.” Carpenter added, “As long as these are low-wage jobs without any safety net in the summer months via unemployment insurance.”

While under COVID-19 pandemic regulations, educational support staff were classified as essential workers in order to maintain school operation. However, once those regulations are modified to pre-COVID regulations, these essential employees won’t be able to access the unemployment benefits their families desperately need.

Briggs revealed, “When I started my bus driving career, I was naive. I thought I was able to get unemployment just like my sons who worked in construction. I was so struck by the fact that there was a state statute that prevented hourly school employees from collecting unemployment benefits due to a, quote, reasonable assurance, unquote, of employment in the fall. Other seasonal employees have reasonable assurance of work, but still, get access to this basic safety net program.”

Testimonies like these express that narrative of the Minnesota AFL-CIO president, Bernie Burnham’s, constituents. In Wednesday’s presser, Burnham’s noted, “We are here today in support of House File 20 Senate File 32 legislation that allows school employees to access unemployment insurance. This legislation will not only make our unemployment system fairer but also help address the current staffing crisis and ensure Minnesota’s students have the support they need.”

This legislation passed in the House and will be sent to the MN Senate floor to be heard.