Atlanta — An estimated 65,000 school workers in Georgia — from unionized bus drivers to food service workers employed by giant corporations like Sodexo and Aramark, as well as janitors, crossing guards, landscape workers and Pre-K teachers — are being denied unemployment benefits this summer. Public and private schools, colleges and universities are on break and laying off workers for as long as three months.
For many of these workers the loss of unemployment benefits came as a total shock. Recently elected Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler reversed a decades-old practice of approving unemployment benefits for these workers, who find themselves without a job in the summer through no fault of their own. When school resumes, they are not even guaranteed their jobs back.
While these jobs are vital for the safety and well-being of children and youth, they are often low-wage positions, held predominantly by women who have few back-up resources.
Affected workers like teachers, bus drivers and crossing guards have mounted protests in such cities as Savannah, Augusta, Griffin, Columbus and Atlanta.
Georgia’s unemployment rate has been higher than the national average throughout the ongoing recession, forcing the state to borrow money from the federal government to cover benefit payments. The shortfall was exacerbated by a General Assembly vote a decade ago, when the economy was booming, that gave companies a three-year reprieve from paying into the unemployment fund.
Georgia now owes $745 million to the federal government. Rather than tax the businesses that pocketed the money from 2000 to 2003, the Georgia General Assembly in the last session passed legislation reducing the weekly unemployment amount as well as the number of benefit weeks. Butler’s administrative ruling classifying school workers as ineligible furthered the attack on unemployed workers.
All these measures may reduce the “official” unemployment figures, but do nothing to increase jobs or provide any relief to the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Georgians who have struggled for years in some cases to find work.
Atlanta Jobs with Justice, in cooperation with unions, community and student groups, has launched a campaign to reverse Butler’s decision. To sign the petition demanding restoration of benefits to education workers, go to atlantajwj.org.