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Report urges ending ‘cruel summer’ for CA classified school workers

Craig Clough | April 21, 2015

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cafeteria workerSupporters of a state bill aimed at making classified school employees eligible for unemployment benefits over the summer are touting a new report that found an overall economic benefit, should it become law.

Introduced by Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Assembly Bill 399 would make over 248,000 classified workers eligible for benefits over the summer months when they are not working in their schools. Classified workers are school employees that do not require certification for employment such as cafeteria workers, teaching assistants, bus drivers and others. LA Unified employs over 29,000 classified workers.

In a phone call with reporters today, supporters of the bill discussed a new report from the nonprofit Economic Roundtable titled “Cruel Summer: Economic Impacts of Extending Unemployment Benefits to Public K-12 Classified Workers in the State of California.” The report highlighted the economic hardship many classified employees currently suffer during the summer and said passage of the bill would generate economic benefits for the state.

“The least we can do is provide a respite for the cruel summer,” Ridley-Thomas said.

State law assumes that all school employees make enough during the nine-month school year to sustain themselves during the summer and are, therefore, ineligible for unemployment benefits. But the average classified school employee in the state makes $20,700 annually, compared with an average $80,817 for an administrator and $57,582 for a teacher, according to the report.

It is also assumed that the workers can find temporary jobs over the summer, but that is not always the case.

“Every summer seems to be like a nightmare, and usually the workers fall into a cycle of debt and poverty,” said Max Arias of SEIU Local 99, the union that represents LA Unified’s classified workers.

The report also found that 10 percent of classified workers statewide are living in poverty, 11 percent use food stamps, and 14 percent lack health insurance. If benefits were extended to classified workers, the report estimates that 28 percent would utilize them for a total of $153 million, but the economic stimulus to the state would be $187 million.

“During these summer months, workers could really use these benefits to stay afloat. Without it, they and local businesses where they would spend this added income go without,” said Patrick Burns of Economic Roundtable.

Esmeralda Torres, a special education assistant with LA Unified, explained how difficult it is to find work in the summer.

“Every summer we struggle. I wonder every year if I can afford to stay at the job I love, but education is my life. I can’t imagine another job,” she said. “I go around to the local restaurants and shops, but no one wants to hire me for such a short time.”

Ridley-Thomas said the bill is the third attempt in recent years to secure economic benefits for classified workers, but the first two never made it out of the Committee on Appropriations. His bill is headed there soon, but he said the outlook for this bill to pass is stronger.

“What has changed is the leadership of the House, in both Houses, and the revenues that are coming in via Proposition 30, which are significantly higher than anticipated,” Ridley-Thomas said.




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