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Petitioning United States Secretary of Labor and 1 other

Don't Cheat Teachers Out of Unemployment Benefits

This week, the issue of unemployment took on even greater personal importance: as a public school teacher who lost his full-time position, I was denied unemployment compensation because, before filing an unemployment claim, I made the mistake of taking part-time work as a substitute teacher. In my state, at least, even one day of substitute teaching – which is just part-time employment, with no guarantee of any days of work at all – automatically disqualifies a person from unemployment benefits based on school wages.

If other words: if you lose a full-time school job, then work even one day as a substitute teacher, and are eligible to return to subbing for even one day the following year, you can’t get unemployment. You are considered not to have lost your job. End of story.

I tried to be as self-sufficient as possible, for as long as possible (also tutored on every possible occasion, in addition to subbing), and it looks like I got myself trapped by a system that I didn’t clearly understand ahead of time.

At the risk of some personal embarrassment, I am sharing this information because this also has to be happening in a number of other states. If nothing else, this petition may be a warning to other teachers, their families, and friends – if you lose a teaching or other school job for any reason, don’t do even one day of part-time or substitute teaching before you know what your state’s unemployment rules are.

Please sign this petition, and spread the word. With all the education cut-backs going on, this issue could affect a lot of people. The following (slightly edited) letter of appeal describes my own experience:

Unemployment Compensation Service Center

Dear Sir or Madam:

In August of 2010, I lost a full-time teaching position with the School District of __________, and then worked as a part-time, per diem substitute teacher with school districts in _________ County during the 2010-2011 school year. Although I may be able to return to these other school districts to substitute teach this fall, this part-time, per diem work (with no guarantee of any days of work at all) is in no way comparable to the full-time, salaried job that I lost.

I am late in filing this appeal because I interpreted the determination of ineligibility letters that I received to refer only to ineligibility against the particular school districts in which I substitute taught. Until I spoke with an Unemployment Compensation representative by telephone, I did not understand that these letters meant that I was being ruled completely ineligible for unemployment benefits.

It is my understanding that, historically; the special provisions of unemployment law relating to schools were intended to prevent people from claiming unemployment benefits every summer and during every vacation, when they have reasonable expectations that they can soon return to their regular jobs.

My case, however, is very different: I lost a full-time position. That position is still lost.

Moreover, I have never applied for unemployment before in my life. By working part-time last year, and delaying my application for unemployment benefits, I attempted to support myself for as long as possible, and did not place any burden upon the state’s unemployment fund for the entire past year, as I actively continued to seek full-time work. I cannot believe that the law would intend to punish a person for first making every effort to support himself – rather than filing for unemployment benefits as a first resort.

I never intended or suspected that by substitute teaching this past year, I would be surrendering the right to file for unemployment benefits based on the 2008-2010 full-time, salaried teaching position that I had in ________. It has always been my understanding that people were allowed to work part-time while also filing for unemployment benefits; it never occurred to me that educators would be treated completely differently from people in every other occupation and profession.

It does not seem possible that my situation is what the law was meant to cover, or that a person would reasonably be aware, in advance, of the peculiarities in the law that are now preventing me from receiving the unemployment benefits toward which I have contributed throughout my working life. I think that this makes the law into a trap for the unwary, and is fundamentally unfair.

Michael P. Castro

Newtown, Pennsylvania

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  • United States Secretary of Labor
  • All States

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