Government Funded Vacation

I run a recreation business that tends to be seasonal.  Many of the campgrounds we run are at high altitudes, and are closed most of the winter because they are snowed in.  We tend to open them in the spring and close them in fall, meaning we hire people in April or May and their job ends in September or October.  Everyone we hire knows from the time they get their job offer that the job is just seasonal, and they will not have a job past some date.

This arrangement is fine with most of my workers, since they tend to be semi-retired already and work during the summer and take winter off. 

The only state where we have a problem is California.  In California, we have an incredibly large number of employees who register for and get unemployment benefits over the winter, even when they have no intention of working.  Most states require that unemployment seekers be actively looking for work.  I don't know if California checks less or if California employees are more adept at gaming the system, but the state unemployment system there seems to be paying for a lot of my employees' vacations.  I know of several who are getting unemployment and are not even in the country - they are down in Mexico fishing all winter.

As a result, I am in the worst California unemployment category, cleverly labeled "F+".  In New Mexico I pay .03%, in Florida I pay 1.3%.  In California, I pay a whopping 6.2% of wages into the system.  Which leads me to another thought - even if no one was cheating the system, why should I be punished with the worst rating in the state?  The nature of my business is that I can only offer jobs April to September.  The only alternative is not full-time work, but no job at all.  The unemployment system was created for the GM guy who has worked the line for years and gets laid off when the economy goes bad.  But my employees know from the moment I offer the job that they are not going to have a job in November.  Unlike the guy at GM, they get exactly what was promised to them.  If this was unacceptable, if they needed full time work, they should have sought out another job.  Why am I punished with higher taxes because I only have seasonal work to give?  Why, when I only have seasonal work, do I have to fund full-time income?

Give credit where it is due, California has done a pretty good job over the last couple of years cleaning up its workers comp. system.  I would like to see them do something similar with unemployment.


  1. Debbie:

    Is there a provision for work entered into with a definite end point? I know that I did not qualify for unemployment in Texas when a temporary job ended. I had gone into it with the expectation that it would only be available for a limited time.

    That may be the product of going through what was essentially a temp agency (a high end one, but a temp agency nonetheless) If rules are different for temp agencies in California, it may be worth exploring the cost of the agency to short circuit this and make the positions statutorily temporary too. Many agencies will let you send your preferred workers to them, so you are not stuck with whomever they send out.

  2. Max Lybbert:

    Yes, when I worked manufacturing, the company expected to hand out temprary layoffs all the time, and then call us back up a week later. This is North Carolina, so I'm sure the system doesn't punish the company so much for doing it.

    California is this way because fifteen years ago the state's economy was run by skilled manufacturing workers who built military jets. There simply wasn't any other state with a competetive workforce for that kind of job, so the state could get away with a terrible business climate. Well, that's no longer thte case, but the liberals don't seem to see it that way. I hate to say it, but I doubt there will be the political backbone to make significant changes in the near future.

    If there were some way to hire them as independent contractors, you could save a lot of headaches. Of course, you would create a lot of headaches as well. And, of course, the IRS believes it has a holy assignment to make sure nobody pretends to be an independent contractor when they really aren't, so that may not be the best thing.

  3. Dan:

    The same works for seasonal park rangers, though I've never needed it. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to legally game the system, though. I send out at least 5-10 NPS applications every week of the year, whether I'm employed or not. In 32 months of applying, I've only been offered two NPS jobs, and only taken one. So in any given week, I could easily show that I was actively seeking work, while knowing perfectly well that I was highly unlikely to be offered a job.

    Mind you, in that case it's the government's unemployment ratings that are affected.

  4. Brad Warbiany:

    My sister and her husband own a marina on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, and constantly deal with the same problem. By definition, it's a seasonal business, with a full crew during busy summer months and a skeleton crew in the winter.

    They fought with the same sort of problems. One thing they've started to get into recently is selling boats, and I think a possible factor could be that in the winter, they can keep some of these workers on staff for boat shows and the like in the winter, so that they don't have to deal with the unemployment hassles.

    To a libertarian, unemployment benefits are by their very nature a bad thing. But even if you recognize their legitimacy, it's another instance of the government bringing a bludgeoning tool when a scalpel might be more useful. They don't have incentive to disburse that money wisely when it's not their money to begin with.

  5. Brad Sallows:

    We have similar problems in Canada. Some forms of seasonal employment can be gamed to collect EI (Employment Insurance) during off-seasons. (EI premiums are paid into the federal fund by workers and employers.) EI has also been gamed in economically-depressed regions. Example: the Company in a one-industry town with 300 potential workers but work for only 200 lays off everyone periodically in an orderly and staggered cycle to ensure they have enough employed time to qualify for EI in their down time.

    In both patterns, it effectively translates to a wage subsidy. There's nothing wrong with having a part-time work force that expects (and desires) to only work seasonally and to not necessarily earn a "living wage" doing so. There's substantial inequity in forcing premium payers to make up for short wages where the workers expect to live year-round on whatever they earn for less than a full year's employment.

  6. Chris:

    Isn't there some way you could get CA employees to sign a contract stating they won't seek unemployment benefits or something? Or at least get verbal assurances?

  7. sierra:

    In relating to Dan's messege...

    I am also a Park Ranger Seasonal, and I want to do this full time in the best way. The oppurtunities are slim it seems. I was collecting unemployment, and then a review recently found me ineligibe in the state of Washington since it my job searching for other seasonal jobs was not a realistic job search. I know some feel one way here in this forum, To me I feel really hurt that they are not treating my career that I love so much, that I have so much passion for, as a rear career worthy of support, when I am a caretaker of americas sacred lands.