Minnesota Teamsters Lobby to Get Benefits for School Bus Drivers in St. Paul
(ST. PAUL, Minnesota) - Last month, members from Teamsters Locals 120 and 638 headed to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul to voice support on legislation that would extend unemployment insurance to school bus workers during the summer months.
The Teamster members met with key state legislators including Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL – Crystal), Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL – St. Paul), Rep. Dennis Smith (R – Maple Grove), Senator Jim Abeler (R – Anoka), and Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt (R – Crown). Sen. Abeler sponsored the Senate legislation, SF 946, and the House bill, HF 911, is being sponsored by Rep. Debra Hillstrom, (DFL-Brooklyn Center).
This is the second year that Teamster First Student school bus drivers have gone to the State Capitol during their Spring Break to meet with their legislators. While the legislation has bipartisan support, passing it into law has been a challenge. The house bill has been stalled in the Job Growth & Energy Affordability Committee, whose chairman, Pat Garofalo (R – Farmington), has refused to hold a hearing.
The issue has been gaining more traction. “We’ve been reaching out to non-union bus drivers about this so they can join us in this movement,” said Teamsters Local 638 Recording Secretary and Business Agent Scott Lacey. “They will see that we are working on their behalf, and it gives us an opportunity to get in front of legislators who we may not be able to reach to otherwise.”
The State of Minnesota does not allow school bus drivers to collect unemployment benefits during the summer when they are laid-off at the end of the school year. Although these workers are not guaranteed work when school begins in the fall, they are currently ineligible for unemployment benefits. When speaking with the legislators, the Teamster members brought up that the lack of unemployment insurance has created a higher turnover rate for Minnesota school bus drivers when compared with other states. Many school bus drivers in the state are single mothers who can’t afford child care, even if they are able to secure a temporary part-time job.
Aung Mo is a Teamsters Local 638 bus driver with 12 years of service. Mo was very pleased with how accessible elected officials were in the Capitol, and that Senator Abeler and Representative Hillstrom were willing to take on this issue. “Now that the economy is doing better, elected officials really understand how important this bill is to reduce turnover in our industry – it’s our new drivers that need it the most,” Mo said. “Every other seasonal worker in the state gets unemployment, the cafeteria workers in our schools get unemployment insurance. The politicians that are with us understand that this makes no sense.”
Even though getting the bills passed into law has been challenging, Minnesota Teamsters remain optimistic. “The meetings have been very productive regardless of whether we are talking to Republicans or Democrats,” said Teamsters Local 638 Principal Officer Trevor Lawrence. “Getting bills passed through the legislative process is always a lengthy, difficult process, but with committed school bus members meeting with their elected officials we have a chance of moving this legislation forward.”