Assemblymember Ridley-Thomas introduces legislation to bring equity and economic stability to dedicated school workers who struggle during the summer break

Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas introduced Assembly Bill 399, the Education Worker Summer Relief Act, that will help provide economic stability for thousands of California working families by allowing dedicated school bus drivers, special education assistants, cafeteria workers, campus safety officers and other classified school workers to receive unemployment insurance benefits in the summer months when work is not available. Current law prohibits them from receiving summer benefits.

“During the academic year, in school districts throughout California, classified school employees serve our children and support their learning with deep passion, commitment and hard work,” Assembly Member Ridley-Thomas said. “Yet, during the summer months when many schools are not in session, these dedicated education workers often struggle to pay their rent and feed their own children. This legislation begins a dialogue about correcting an inequity in our state’s current unemployment insurance system to ensure that classified school workers can receive the seasonal benefits they deserve.”

“I love what I do with a passion,” says Cesar Solis, a Special Education employee at Leichman Special Education Center in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “But hard times make it difficult to continue. Sometimes I get teary thinking about leaving a job I really love.”

“I love my job,” says Anthony Bradshaw, a warehouse worker for the Lynwood Unified School District. “But it’s difficult in the summer. A couple times, I’ve been able to find a job. But because the job market is so tight, it’s often time to go back to work before I can find a job. This past year, I got behind on a lot of my bills. I’m trying to catch up now, but the same thing might happen this summer.”

For most school workers, finding summer jobs is almost impossible. Hiring managers don’t want to invest in employees who will only be working for two or three months.

Assembly Bill 399 would bring justice to the current unemployment insurance system by:

Recognizing the difference between the principal and the lunch lady: Classified employees are among the lowest paid workers in our schools and most work less than eight hours a day. Yet, current law is based on the rationale that all school workers – from administrators to teachers to cafeteria workers – earn enough during the school year to cover the three month summer recess period.

Ensuring equity for all seasonal workers: Classified school employees are the only seasonal workers prohibited by California law from receiving unemployment benefits. Sports stadium employees, farm workers, retail employees and other seasonal employees are eligible for unemployment benefits during their seasonal break periods.

“Many school workers who have chosen to commit their life’s work to helping educate our children are forced to live in an endless cycle of debt and poverty,” said SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias. “We must do more to ensure school jobs are good jobs by improving wages, increasing full time work, expanding summer school, and ensuring school workers have access to unemployment benefits when they need them. This legislation is a step forward toward ensuring that dedicated school workers can support their families while continuing to provide quality services to students during the school year.”

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SEIU Local 99 represents nearly 45,000 employees in public and non-public organizations in early education, child care, K-12, and community college levels. SEIU Local 99 members are: Teacher’s Assistants, Playground Workers, Special Education Assistants, Bus Drivers, Gardeners, Custodians, Cafeteria Workers, Maintenance Workers, Family Service Workers, Child Care Providers, and others working in schools, colleges, and administrative offices throughout Southern California.