No More Unemployment Checks For Seasonal Workers

seasonal workers unemployment

By Annalyn Censky

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Should seasonal workers be allowed to collect unemployment checks in their downtime?

A growing number of states are saying no.

From school bus drivers to ballet dancers to lifeguards, many workers whose jobs only last for a portion of the year have traditionally been eligible for jobless benefits. But now states across the country are starting to crack down, trying to save money and rescue insolvent jobless funds.

Federal law gives each state the option to decide whether or not to allow seasonal workers to take benefits. Now strapped for funds, many states are stripping some workers of their eligibility.

For example, earlier this year, New Jersey Republicans introduced a bill that would require the state to identify specific seasonal industries that operate about 9 months of the year or less, and deny those workers unemployment benefits in the off-season.

"Individuals who work in a truly seasonal industry know that the work will not continue past a certain time," said New Jersey assemblyman Sean Kean, when he co-sponsored the bill. "Therefore, it makes sense to end seasonal workers' unemployment benefits. This is a common sense measure that will save taxpayers and help the state's unemployment insurance fund."

In all, about 15 states currently restrict the payment of unemployment benefits to workers who earned some or most of their wages in seasonal jobs. They all define seasons differently, some based on time frames and others based on industries.

Who gets benefits and who doesn't?

Federal law already prohibits professional athletes from accessing unemployment benefits between two seasons. Similarly, teachers who work directly for school districts have been ineligible to take unemployment during the summer, ever since Congress amended federal law in the 1970s.

But for other workers, it's up to the states to decide. For example, private educational contractors -- like bus drivers, crossing guards, janitors and cafeteria workers -- have been entitled to unemployment benefits in many states, any time school is out of session.

Landscapers and construction workers can often apply for unemployment in the winter.

Entertainment workers like actors, stagehands, television producers, ballet dancers and opera singers sometimes collect between seasons.

And in some states, even workers in the hospitality industry can submit claims when the tourist season ends.

Now, some policymakers are picking and choosing specific industries to restrict, with school contract workers being a common target.

Jerome Irwin has collected unemployment benefits every summer, for the last 10 years. A school bus driver in Savannah, Ga., he is typically out of work for two to three months each year. During that time, he relies on unemployment benefits, usually amounting to about $285 a week.

But this year, the unemployment checks won't come. Not after Georgia's Department of Labor enacted a rule restricting school contractors from jobless benefits. School bus drivers in the state are planning a protest against the rule this week.

"We're going to have people losing their homes, losing their cars, and not being able to feed their families," Irwin said. "Once we reach our last paycheck, we have to apply for some kind of assistance -- welfare, food stamps or any other kind of assistance we can find."

Tennessee passed a similar law last year, and Massachusetts appointed a task force to study the issue. Arizona and Kansas already have specific restrictions for school contractors written into their laws.

"Our limited resources for unemployment benefits are reserved for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are seeking another job," Mark Butler, Georgia's Department of Labor Commissioner, said in a statement explaining the change.

In Virginia, Republican state Delegate Manoli Loupassi has proposed a bill that would target symphony workers in particular.

"They're not unemployed. They know they're coming back. They always come back," Loupassi told the Richmond Times Dispatch in January. "They just have a job that's seasonal. Baseball players don't get to collect unemployment in the off season."

In Massachusetts, Colorado and Pennsylvania seasonal workers can no longer apply for benefits unless they're laid off during their typical working season. A ski instructor, for example, could only collect unemployment if they lost their job in the winter.

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What about politicians?

August 02 2012 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Once again a greedy few get over on an already struggling group of workers. and once again our ( I use the word loosely) Legislaters miss the ball by a mile. Unemployed benefits are funded mostly through a tax on employers not state treasuries. So rather than provide needed income to mostly lower income workers trough unemployment they can now apply for food stamps, Medicaid, and a multitude of benefits paid for by who else us the taxpayers. What we need is more part time Legislaters and make sure they can't collect benefits of any kind. Let them make up the difference with the graft and special interests money they stuff in their pockets every year

August 02 2012 at 6:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

While were at it lets stop paying politicians when they are not working , Why pay them to campaign? Save a lot of money given the amount of time they actually working.

August 02 2012 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Patricia Turk

Not true about PA. Daughter & friends are school bus drivers & receive Unemployment Compensation during the summer. Get your facts straight!

August 02 2012 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Better include Politicains in this then, there not there most of the year... if the show fits, wear it.

August 02 2012 at 3:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I lived in Jersey most of my life and reading this I have mixed feelings. I know of motel owners down the Jersey Shore who made big bucks during the summer season and had the whole family on the payroll. Come Labor Day they all signed up for unemployment. That seems a little much. But for the hired help, maids, wait staff, etc. jobs aren't easy to come by and they should be able to collect. On another note I've been paying into the unemployment fund for just over 30 years without a claim. Can I have my money back???

August 02 2012 at 3:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Does that mean that the enployees and employers of seasonal workers don't have to pay unemployment tax ???

August 02 2012 at 3:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sonya & Matthew

I know many people who work seasonally and do not get any type of help in there off season they save accordingly to get them through until work resumes. I do not feel these people should be allowed unemployment benefits when they knowingly accept a seasonal job. Its not the same as just being unemployed you usually can go back to work after a short time off. Its like this recently a local WALMART fired employees for asking to get a drink when they work outside on a very hot 97 degree day. They applied for unemployment because WALMART told them they were fired. However lied to unemployment saying they were still listed as employed and could resume thier job in 3 months they were just seasonal. WALMART refuse to rehire them. WALMART lied. Seasonal workers are told upfront that their jobs are seasonal. WALMART jobs are not seasonal.

August 02 2012 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are many Federal, State, and private contract seasonal firefighters all across the country that rely on unemployement benefits to get them through the off season. If they get cut off, many would be forced to find something else to do, leaving the forests, rural communities, and other homes in the wildland urban interface at risk. With the hours they work when on fire assignments (typically working 98-112 hrs/week) , the employees and their employers pay nearly as much into their unemployment in 3-6 months, as some occupations pay in a full year. Those same firefighters also typically end up initially paying out more in taxes, due to all the overtime pay during those 3-6 months, than they would if they worked the same total hours spread out over a full year. Just because someone works seasonal, doesn't mean they are lazy, or that their jobs aren't essential. Just because someone works year round, doesn't automatically make them a better person.

August 02 2012 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to spraguepsycho1's comment
Sonya & Matthew

I fully agree with your comments However there are jobs out there that pay very well such as teaching where they are 5-6 figure income that can be saved to maintain their homes and cars over the 2 month summer vacation. Other jobs such as the hospitality industry only give people maybe 2-3 months of employment and its those guys that are only employed for a short time that need to go find other work when they know full well that there is going to be a period of time when they do not get paid that needs to be planned for. Most of these types of workers move on to other states and are considered transient workers they folow the tourists. If you are fully aware that you will not be hired for this period of time but know you will have work the following season then you must save and prepare for it. Why should it be the burden of the full time employees to foot the tax bill for unemployment?

August 02 2012 at 2:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sonya & Matthew's comment

Once again you are taking the term "seasonal workers" to be crop pickers. Don't you people read the articles you comment on?? Did you at all read all the jobs that are seasonal?? For example...Do you really think the mothers and fathers that do school bus driving are people that move on from state to state??

BTW -- most teaching jobs DO NOT pay "very Well" For example - in Calif an area I used to live by ... the town of Sonoma, middle of wine country where homes average $350.00 - $500,00 and up. Teachers salaries are ---- Starting approx $35,760 Friends tell me that after approx 15-20 years one can expect that to grow to $58,000. Not what I would call well paid at all especailly of that is the top salary. You can make more selling cell phones.

August 02 2012 at 3:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

As a Substitute Teacher, this constantly happens. I'm paying into Unemployment every month, and yet we are constantly denied "Unemployment Benefits."
The whole thing about us being "Non Essential" workers in the state of NJ is CRAPOLA!!
Substitute Teachers are always looked down on and treated like they are subhuman by many of the teachers we are called in to cover for. If we're not entitled to Unemployment than stop taking it out of my pay!!! Go on and see if your classes can go on without us!!

June 08 2012 at 6:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rob's comment
Scott Solheim

I work at a College and the teachers can either opt to collect their yearly salary over the 9 months that they teach or have the sum spread out over twelve months. I think all states should adopt that policy.l

August 03 2012 at 1:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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