School Custodians & Maintenance Workers Will Be Eligible for Unemployment Benefits

Roger Butenschoen of Eugene Chapter 1, a custodian at Twin Oaks Elementary School

Unlike any other type of worker in Oregon, school employees are not allowed to collect unemployment insurance (UI) benefits when laid off for breaks or summer vacation, if they have ‘reasonable assurance’ of a return to work at the end of the break. Until recently, this was true even for employees who typically work year-round, such as custodians and maintenance workers.

That is about to change thanks to an OSEA-backed bill that passed the legislature in 2019. After the law goes into effect on January 1, 2020, school custodial, facilities and maintenance workers will be subject to the same rules as non-school employees. They will no longer be denied compensation simply because they work for a school district.

At least 95 percent of custodial workers represented by OSEA are 12-month employees, but that does not prevent districts from laying them off over summer vacation. Districts are not required to provide information about continued employment until May 30 of each year; this short notice places an additional burden on employees who are laid off unexpectedly and cannot draw UI benefits. In addition, a reasonable assurance from a district is not a guarantee of employment in the fall, making the financial situation for laid off employees that much more precarious.

“Changing this unfair regulation is a huge victory for OSEA members,” said OSEA Government Relations Specialist Bob Estabrook, who led OSEA’s campaign to pass the bill. “In addition to making things more fair for custodial and maintenance workers, this opens the door to improve UI regulations for all school employees in the future.”

Apply Over Spring Break

To maximize UI benefits, eligible school employees should file their claim over spring break, rather than waiting for the summer. Oregon requires all workers seeking UI benefits to go through a ‘waiting week’ after filing their claim, during which they will not receive benefits. But since workers only have to do one waiting week each year, using spring break for that period means there will be no delay in benefits over the summer or winter breaks in the same year.

The Only Way to Really Know if You’re Eligible is to Apply

Although the new law only covers custodians and maintenance workers, Estabrook urges all school staff who are laid off over the summer to apply for benefits, even if their employer tells them they are not eligible. “Sometimes when districts send employees notification of reasonable assurance of a job in the fall, they ask employees to acknowledge that they are not eligible for unemployment. But workers should never sign anything that says they are ineligible. The only way to really know if you are eligible is to apply.”