Proposed auto insurance rules could hurt teachers

A photo illustration of a driver on the road. (Image: Minerva Studio, via Shutterstock)

California’s track record regarding treatment of its teachers is mediocre at best. Budget cuts, overcrowded classrooms, a lack of school supplies, paychecks completely out of touch with the cost of living—teachers know what it’s like to be low priority.

Following the state’s tradition, the Department of Insurance is proposing regulations on a discount program that teachers and other low-income workers rely on to afford auto insurance.

I live and work in Manhattan Beach, one of the most affluent cities in the state, where the median income is $142,000—this is nearly double a first-year teacher’s income and significantly more than most teachers ever earn. It’s no secret that your neighborhood teachers are underpaid, and any program that offers us a way to save a few dollars is critical – especially in an area as expensive as Manhattan Beach.

Thousands of teachers could lose discounts on their auto and home insurance if Commissioner Lara passes these changes.

I’ve been an educator since 1988, and currently teach 9th-12th grade English at my alma mater, Mira Costa High School. In addition to my job in the classroom, I also serve as president of the Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association (MBUTA). MBUTA belongs to South Bay United Teachers (SBUT), which represents nearly 3,000 educators in Los Angeles’ South Bay, and is in turn part of the statewide California Teachers Association (CTA).

Being part of MBUTA gives us access to various benefits. Of particular importance is the affinity group discount on automotive insurance, which has been available for more than twenty years. Yet it has come under scrutiny by the California Department of Insurance, which has been investigating claims that these programs only benefit wealthy drivers.

To refute this assumption, I spoke on behalf of MBUTA at a hearing in September 2019. I defended the fact that teachers, whose salaries average $54,000 and therefore place them at the border of California’s poverty line, depend greatly on affinity groups. From lesson planning to after-hours grading to working second jobs just to stay afloat, teachers have enough to worry about.

Following that hearing, I was hopeful that the Commissioner would heed our words and realize that the groups supposedly being discriminated against by affinity groups were actually the people who would be most hurt if they were terminated.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. The proposed regulations released by the department this past December didn’t reflect the testimonies from the September hearing at all.

Putting affinity groups on the chopping block will hurt teachers and other working-class residents

The department recently hosted a workshop to discuss these proposed regulations—where I was shocked to learn about further discrimination against teachers who are unaffiliated. I can’t help but worry that removing the occupation-based discount will have profound effects on teachers across the entire state.

Thousands of teachers could lose discounts on their auto and home insurance if Commissioner Lara passes these changes. Beyond teachers, there are millions of Californians who also depend on these discounts to afford their insurance. Terminating these programs is going to hurt—not help—millions of hardworking residents.

I left the workshop still feeling hopeful that what I and other groups said there might make a difference, and South Bay United Teachers know that if we want things to get done—we do them together. Affinity group discounts matter to teachers and so many other groups in our state.

With so much on the line, we want the department to understand that we want to work together on this—to determine what the best course is for these programs and how they’re able to operate in California.

In teaching, repetition is key, and I believe this tactic works universally. So to reiterate: putting affinity groups on the chopping block will hurt teachers and other working-class residents, and the Commissioner needs to look atother long-term solutions to creating a fair playing field.Teachers across California—union members or not—deserve to have their affinity group programs protected, not gutted.

Editor’s Note: Shawn Chen is an English teacher at Mira Costa High School and president of the Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association.

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