School Workers Take Midnight Ride to Sacramento to Call for Relief from “Cruel Summer”

Cafeteria workers, bus drivers, special education assistants, custodians and others urge legislators to correct inequities in current law and allow school workers to receive unemployment benefits during summer break

LOS ANGELES, CA — Just weeks before school lets out for the summer, classified school workers rallied and took a midnight bus ride to Sacramento to urge legislators to support Assembly Bill 399: The Education Workers Summer Relief Act, which would allow classified school workers to receive unemployment benefits during the summer break.

Despite their dedication to California’s school children, classified school workers are forced into a cycle of debt and poverty to survive the summer. Current law excludes them from receiving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits when work is not available during the summer recess. In fact, they are the only seasonal employees who are denied UI benefits during their seasonal break. Hollywood writers, sports stadium employees, farm workers and retail employees are all eligible for unemployment benefits during their off-season break. And finding other work for the break period is virtually impossible as employers don’t want to invest in school district employees who will return to their school jobs after a few weeks.

“I love being in the classroom. But every summer I struggle. I wonder if I can afford to stay at the job I love,” said Esmeralda Torres, a Special Education Assistant at Stephen M. White Middle School in Los Angeles. “Every summer, I apply for summer school. If there’s no work for me with the school district, I try the local restaurants and shops. It’s always the same story. No one wants to hire me for such a short time. So we borrow money and try to hang on to our home until September. It’s hard. But I can’t imagine another job. Education is my life.”

Current state law is based on the rationale that all school workers earn enough during the school year to last through the summer recess. But according to Cruel Summer, a recent report by Economic Roundtable, the median annual earnings of classified workers in California in 2012 was only $20,700, well below self-sufficiency standards. In comparison, teachers, principals, librarians and other certificated school employees earn middle class incomes that can last through the summer recess.

The Cruel Summer report also highlights how extending unemployment insurance benefits to school workers would positively impact California’s economy, adding $187.3 million in sales for California businesses, $12.1 million in state and local tax revenues and increased jobs.

“California must do a better job of compensating the working people who help our children learn in safe, clean, healthy and supportive schools,” said Max Arias, Executive Director of SEIU Local 99. “The reality is that many of the men and women working in our schools are also parents of school-aged children. Extending unemployment benefits to classified school workers is one way we can enable more working families to make their way solidly into the middle class, instead of enduring summer after summer of financial crisis.”

Assembly Member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas has introduced AB399: The Education Workers Summer Relief Act to help end the cruel summer many school workers are forced to endure every year. The bill was approved by the Assembly Insurance Committee on April 22 and will be heard next month by the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee.


SEIU Local 99 is a union of  nearly 45,000 education workers in K-12 schools, early education centers and homes, administrative offices, and community colleges throughout Southern California, including more than 30,000 teacher assistants, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others providing essential student services at LAUSD. Nearly 50% of SEIU Local 99 members are also parents or guardians of school-aged children.

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