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ST. PAUL, Minnesota, April 27, 2022 – Minnesota school workers, along with parents, union leaders and legislative leaders, on Wednesday demanded that any deal on the unemployment trust fund include a fix on a decades-old exclusion of hourly school workers from unemployment insurance.
Currently, tens of thousands of dedicated school staff have no access to unemployment like most other workers in Minnesota, leaving them without pay during the summer months. This logical, equitable change to include school workers is being opposed by Senate Republicans along with groups who represent school administrators and school boards.
The Minnesota House passed a bill on Monday night that not only provided $160 million to expand unemployment insurance eligibility to hourly school workers but also earmarked $1 billion for one-time payments to frontline workers and $2.7 billion in tax relief for businesses by replenishing the unemployment insurance trust fund.
“The House DFL has been working hard all session to create an unemployment option for those workers. Republicans in the Senate refused to pass that bill. They said no to their number one legislative priority because our bill included support for workers,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “That is not going to make Minnesota a better place to raise a family, it’s not going to help kids do better in school, it’s not going to help our school districts serve our communities better.”
“Minnesota Senate Republicans just can’t fall over themselves fast enough to issue multimillion-dollar tax breaks to some of the most successful companies who are actually doing better because of COVID than they were before COVID,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “We could put the bill on the governor’s desk today if they would simply agree with us that the Minnesota Legislature should support both workers and businesses.”
The Wednesday press conference comes near the end of a school year that has seen historic shortages in jobs like paraprofessionals, ESPs, bus drivers, food service workers and other staff who are the backbone of our schools. Minnesota schools will only lose more dedicated and skilled employees who are crucial to our students’ success and well-being if this doesn’t get fixed.
The following are comments from press conference speakers on behalf of members from Education Minnesota, SEIU Local 284, Teamsters Joint Council 32 and AFSCME Local 65:
Bill Schwandt, special education paraprofessional and Bloomington Federation of Paraprofessionals president, Education Minnesota member
“This isn’t right. Other workers with predictable, seasonal employment, like resort employees, landscapers, construction workers, are eligible for unemployment. And in some districts, private subcontractors who do the exact same job as our paraprofessionals, bus drivers and food service workers, are able to collect unemployment. But hourly school employees like myself are at the mercy of the school calendar. We think it’s only fair that school workers are eligible too.”
(Catherine) “Cat” Briggs, bus driver, District 196 Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, SEIU Local 284 member
“Even before the pandemic, bus drivers suffered through the summer with reduced hours and small paychecks. … This year I’m worried because we’ve just recruited a ton of new, young bus drivers. They’re about to hit a wall in June. Without the partial wage replacement available from unemployment insurance, they’re going to take their CDL (commercial driver’s license) down the street and never come back.”
Laura Carpenter, parent, Minneapolis Public Schools
“The special education team at my son’s school and across the district is chronically understaffed, just like all positions in our schools. All year, our school buses have been routinely late due to there not being enough drivers for all the routes. … I know from experience that the people who hold these positions show up every day out of love for their students. We can’t afford to lose any more of them.”