End jobless benefits for seasonal workers?

Moderated by Rick Badie

Should seasonal workers be able to collect unemployment checks in their downtime? The federal government recently ordered the Georgia Department of Labor to rescind a ruling and pay teachers and contract workers lost unemployment benefits. A New Jersey assemblyman writes about a bill to curb payments in his state. I write about similar efforts elsewhere. Feel free to comment below.

By Rick Badie

New Jersey Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco has an offer for Georgia legislators: He and his Garden State colleagues would be happy to let the General Assembly copy a proposed bill to bar seasonal workers from collecting jobless benefits. In February, Bucco joined two other representatives to introduce legislation that would require their state labor agency to identify specific seasonal jobs and to deny workers who fill those jobs unemployment claims in the off-season.

“We have a situation where school crossing guards are hired by municipalities and some by school districts,” he told me. “Once school ends, their services are no longer needed and they collect unemployment. It has become expensive. When you take these seasonal jobs, you know they are seasonal. You shouldn’t expect to collect unemployment.”

The issue has surfaced in Georgia as it tries to curtail expenses in a stalled economy and shore up the unemployment insurance fund.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler on Jan. 30 instituted a benefits change that denied summer jobless pay to thousands of bus drivers, cafeteria workers and private school teachers. It was unfair, he explained, to pay seasonal benefits when public school system employees don’t receive them. In stepped the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency determined Georgia had violated workplace laws and recently ordered Butler to rescind his ruling. State labor officials have turned to Georgia’s attorney general for guidance.

When news of the decision became public, Butler said: “We were treating people employed directly by a public school system, or a university, differently than somebody who was contracted by a school system. In cases where you have a great probability of returning to contracted work, then you’re not eligible for unemployment.”

Meanwhile, supporters of Georgia’s seasonal workers say many have been unable to pay bills. Some have faced eviction notices and endured electricity shutoffs, according to Roger Sikes, organizing director for Atlanta Jobs with Justice.

New Jersey, Georgia and other cash-strapped states are trying to limit seasonal unemployment pay. According to CNN Money, laborers in Massachusetts, Colorado and Pennsylvania can no longer apply for benefits unless they’re laid off during the typical working season. The states, according to CNN, define “seasons” differently, based on the industry. The workers in New Jersey, for example, work from May to September attending to the shore’s summer tourists. (Georgia’s seasonal workers who would be impacted by the federal government’s order work nine months and are idle three.)

Bucco was unaware of the federal decision regarding Georgia. Still, he said he was confident the bill introduced in his state would pass muster. “We drafted our legislation and checked it against the federal regulations and rules,” he said. “We got a determination that it is okay. We hope to get it out of committee and voted on.” Then he added: “If the legislators down there are interested, we have no qualms with them copying our work. We think it will withstand a federal challenge.”

By Sean Kean

My coastal legislative district on the New Jersey Shore borders the Atlantic Ocean and includes several beach towns. These towns have a busy summer season when tourists come to the shore to enjoy the beach, restaurants, amusement rides and other seasonal attractions.

Since New Jersey has 130 miles of coastline, there is a substantial industry based around the summer season and the businesses and tourists that frequent the area. This industry includes beach badge checkers, lifeguards and maintenance workers.

Many seasonal workers are entitled to collect unemployment insurance compensation in the off-season (teachers are not). The summer season extends from Memorial Day until Labor Day, approximately 12 weeks.

As a lifelong resident of the area, I know the importance of maintaining qualified lifeguard staffs during summer. These committed individuals give swimmers peace of mind and encourage tourism at the shore. There are many cases where lifeguards come to the assistance of beach goers after hours when beaches are closed. I know; I was a lifeguard for several summers.

However, providing unemployment benefits to lifeguards, school crossing guards and beach staff employees who work for 12 weeks each summer is a practice that should end. These benefits are subsidized by the taxpayers in the communities in which these individuals work. Unemployment benefits should not be available to those who work at jobs that, by definition, only last a brief period each year.

Unfortunately, the state can no longer afford to pay these unemployment benefits, especially when more than 400,000 other people are currently unemployed in New Jersey. Our state’s unemployment insurance fund has been in a perilous condition for quite a few years.

In fact, in 2009 and 2010, New Jersey borrowed $1.6 billion from the Federal Unemployment Account to meet the state’s benefit obligation. Of course, “borrowed” means the loan must be paid back.

Providing unemployment insurance benefits to seasonal workers is now an untenable practice. There is no question in these occupations that the employment is for a finite period of time. Unlike the thousands of workers who are laid off with little hope of being recalled, seasonal workers know their employment timetable.

In January, the New Jersey Unemployment Task Force recommended that New Jersey law be amended to identify seasonal industries, determine industry seasons and eliminate all end-of-season separation eligibility. The task force also recommended that construction not be defined as a seasonal industry.

I incorporated these recommendations into bipartisan legislation (A-2454) introduced in February. It is not groundbreaking public policy, but necessary for New Jersey. As of yet, the bill is not scheduled to be heard in committee.

Before we know it, summer will be over. A group of seasonal employees will be entitled to collect this benefit once again, despite the fact that they will likely return to these jobs next year. This policy must come to an end.

Sean Kean is a New Jersey assemblyman.

26 comments Add your comment

MrLiberty

August 23rd, 2012
1:50 pm

From Merriam Webster:

Insurance-

a : the business of insuring persons or property b : coverage by contract whereby one party undertakes to indemnify or guarantee another against loss by a specified contingency or peril c : the sum for which something is insured
2: a means of guaranteeing protection or safety

If an insurance company knows that you will absolutely collect $1000 on a given day for a known incident/occurence, etc. they will charge you at least $1000 for the policy. To do otherwise would cause them to go out of business. The government charges what they do based on the POSSIBILITY that covered unemployment will occur. They do not charge based on something that is guaranteed to occur. This scam must stop. But leave it to legislators to steal from the hard working full-time employed to buy the votes of these folks.

MrLiberty

August 23rd, 2012
1:42 pm

Abe Lincoln – I have a better idea. Let’s end the taxation that we are all FORCED to pay.

By your logic I should get a check every year that I maintain full employment because I have only paid in but not taken out. It is not a savings account that people “invest in” over the course of their employment. It is INSURANCE. In theory, the amount of premiums is comensurate with the risk of payout. Thanks to how screwed up the govenrment is, they are not and also thanks to them they hand this money out more to buy votes than to tide people over.

The unemployment insurance fund is bankrupt exactly because of this kind of crap. If the total dollars paid in by these folks was given to them instead as a lump sum, it would probably not equal enough for a weekend’s worth of eating out. Instead they get dozens more times what they paid in EVERY YEAR.

If you don’t understand how insurance is supposed to work, fine. But stop commenting as if you do. Insurance is supposed to cover unexpected RISK, not know events. This is the same reason why health “insurance’ is so expensive, why routine medical procedures are so expensive, and why insurance has such a bad name in this country.

MrLiberty

August 23rd, 2012
1:23 pm

If you don’t want seasonal; work, get a year-round job. Period.

You have not been let go and do not deserve ANY unemployment benefits. The alloted time of your service has ended. You knew this up front and you still chose to take the job. Nobody else should have to pay for you to sit on your ass for 3 months every year. Those of us with regular jobs are lucky to get 2 weeks paid vacation and we don’t appreciate having our taxes going to subsidize your lifestyle choice.

Abe Lincoln

August 23rd, 2012
12:56 pm

Hey! Don’t seasonal workers pay into the unemployment insurance fund too (with state/fed payroll taxes)? THEY DO, and because of this they do they should be entitled to receive Unemployment Benefits, they should received up to 4 weeks worth for 3 month FT seasonal workers and 9 weeks for 9 month seasonal workers. That’s fair, that’s the right thing to do because EVERYONE that works pays taxs into the Uneployment Insurance Fund. Both Mark Butler and the NJ assessmblymen are on a full wage assualt against the poor and middle class and protecting the rich, powerful, and wealthy, they are both wrong.

Phil Goddard

August 23rd, 2012
7:56 am

What Mark Butler, the DOL Commissioner of Ga. does not seem understand is that there is a BIG difference between public school teachers and private school teachers; public school teachers are paid on a twelve month contract, private school teachers are only paid while they are working which is generally ten months. The states own rules for employment state that if you are out of work through no fault of our own, then you qualify for unemployment benefits. The state paid these teachers last year!

middle of the road

August 23rd, 2012
7:44 am

The other thing about unemployment insurance is that it is paid for by the employer ALONE. It should AT LEAST be split 50-50 with the employee also paying half.