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State ordered to reverse itself on some unemployment claims

— Thousands of Georgia bus drivers, cafeteria workers and private school teachers, who this year were denied usual summertime unemployment checks, may get that money after all, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler instituted the benefits change on Jan. 30. He said it was unfair for contractual workers to receive seasonal benefits when public school system employees don't.

Washington officials determined last week that the Georgia Department of Labor violated workplace laws by refusing to pay the benefits. In an Aug. 2 letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the federal government ordered Butler to rescind the ruling and pay the teachers and contract workers for the weeks, or months, of lost unemployment benefits.

The payments — potentially millions of dollars — would come from businesses and/or taxpayers.

Butler met Monday in Atlanta with Teamsters Local 728 and other union and community leaders representing thousands of affected workers. He was granted a month's reprieve by the U.S. Labor Department to seek legal guidance from Georgia's attorney general.

By then, though, Washington expects the state to begin repaying workers such as Everton Daswell, a shuttle bus driver at Kennesaw State University whose summertime unemployment compensation claims were denied.

"If the [U.S. Labor Department's] ruling stands, then I say justice has been done," said Daswell, who works for a private company that contracts with the university. Daswell, out of full-time work since April, expects roughly $3,000 in lost benefits.

"Four months of bills have not been paid on time," he continued. "I couldn't look forward to any vacation. It affected our lives greatly."

In the early 1970s, Washington ruled that public school teachers, whose salaries are typically paid out over 12 months, weren't eligible for benefits during summer breaks. Teachers, who expect to be back at work in the fall, aren't considered laid-off — the main criteria to receive unemployment benefits.

Commissioner Butler, though, said public school teachers last year cried foul, as had private pre-kindergarten administrators whose unemployment insurance costs rise with each jobless claim. If a worker is approved for benefits, the pre-k provider is on the hook for additional unemployment insurance costs, which cut into slim profit margins.

"We were treating people employed directly by a public school system, or a university, differently than somebody who was contracted by a school system," Butler said in an interview Monday. "In cases where you have a great probability of returning to contracted work, then you're not eligible for unemployment."

The benefits change in January came as the state continued its push to trim jobless rolls and save money. Georgia's unemployment rate stood at 9 percent in June. The state owes Washington $743 million for jobless assistance borrowed during the recession.

In the Aug. 2 letter, the U.S. Labor Department wrote that Butler's "recent reinterpretation" of unemployment compensation is without "adequate statutory basis."

Comments

waltspecht 2 years, 4 months ago

Great, more free money. Was this unemployment really meant to supliment workers such as these? Does anyone really believe they are all actively searching for employment during those Months? Does anyone believe they would be hired, with the expectation being they will leave in a month? Another way the system and the Taxpayers are being worked by the individual for their benefit.

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Albanite 2 years, 4 months ago

To qualify for unemployment, you must be actively engaged in the process of seeking and finding gainful employment. If they can prove - as EVERYONE ELSE MUST PROVE - that they sought and were interviewed at least daily for a new job, then they should not qualify for unemployment. Treat them just like anyone else would be treated. Unemployment money was NEVER intended to be vacation pay.

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FryarTuk 2 years, 4 months ago

The fed ruling doesn't make any sense. The drivers accepted the position on the basis of part time or temporary work. Does that mean now that itinerant farm hands will be granted unemployment benefits. Perhaps for the moment farm labor is exempted but when you go down the slippery sloap granting seasonal or temporary income benefits under labor laws where will it end? Of course, the remedy is clear for the school bus drivers, divide their salaries by 12 and pay them in the summer months. A little more expense but it would save taxpayers from having to be penalized the unemployment penalties.

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jglass 2 years, 4 months ago

This article was so confusing to read. So, because they don't work during the summer and their pay is not divided by 12 months like the teachers, they can sit at home and get unemployment.??? They should be actively looking for work, etc. like the normal person on unemployment. Something in the system is really wrong.

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