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Pa. labor department supports school bus drivers with unemployment filing guide

Seth Perlman

Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry is trying to ease the process for seasonal school workers filing for unemployment benefits.

Employees who work for school districts on a contract are eligible for unemployment compensation if they don’t have work over the summer, including many school bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria workers.

Barney Oursler, director of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, said the benefits help those workers stay afloat during the summer. That way, school bus drivers and others don’t have to look for other work or abandon these often short-staffed positions.

“It is directly related to the difficulties that these contractors have with hiring and keeping people, could provide this service to school districts,” Oursler said.

School bus driver employment nationwide has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. An analysis from the Economic Policy Institute found that school bus driver employment in September 2023 remained down 15.1% from September 2019.

The pro-union think tank also found that bus driver employment in the private sector fell further than it did among district or government-employed drivers.

The state’s Office of Unemployment Compensation is offering step-by-step guidance online to school bus drivers filing claims. Agency officials said in a statement that they assist thousands of school bus drivers across Pennsylvania in filing claims each summer, and worked with the Pennsylvania School Bus Association to educate workers about their rights and responsibilities.

“We realize the process to file for UC benefits can be intimidating, especially for anyone who’s never done it before or for folks who work seasonal jobs,” Labor and Industry Secretary Nancy Walker said. “That’s why we’re working proactively whenever possible to educate groups of workers about how to navigate the system and avoid unnecessary delays.”

Walker encouraged school bus drivers, crossing guards, janitors and other school-related workers eligible for unemployment benefits over the summer to file a claim. Seasonal workers who have previously filed claims can reopen a past one during their first week of unemployment.

According to the most recent state data, unemployment claims statewide increased from 41,204 to 85,124 between May and June. More than 34,400 claims filed last month, or 40.4%, came from workers in Allegheny County.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.