Thursday, May 24, 2012

GA Teamsters fight savage attack on bus workers

Local 728 bus workers heading to the Department of Labor last week.

The Georgia Department of Labor quietly decided to prevent Teamster school bus workers and others from getting unemployment benefits when they're laid off for the summer.

The Savannah Morning News, owned by a multinational corporation, supported the move. The newspaper published a snooty editorial that said the workers should consider themselves lucky. Really.

Local 728 organizing director Ben Speight penned a rebuttal. It has yet to be published, so we're posting it here.
Cutting benefits for seasonally unemployed workers is not just unfair, it’s bad for the local economy. 
In Savannah, it is not just school bus drivers, food service workers and custodians that have historically drawn unemployment benefits during seasonal layoffs. Hundreds of hospitality workers do too. 
Hospitality workers are not impacted by the new rule change to eliminate summer unemployment benefits. But at the rate Commissioner Mark Butler is going, they may be next. 
Stripping essential unemployment payments from 500 educational workers in Chatham County will directly impact the local economy. According to the non partisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, each $1 of unemployment payments creates up to $1.90 in local economic growth as these workers pay for basic necessities from local businesses. That equates to millions of dollars taken out of family budgets and cash registers. 
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler’s strategy has been to attack the unemployed by slashing benefits -- from the weekly amounts paid, to the number of weeks an eligible employee could draw benefits, to this attack on educational workers. 
In a May 7th press release, Butler asserts that educational workers should be treated like teachers who do not receive unemployment benefits during the summer. However, the Labor Commissioner fails to point out that teachers are offered the choice to get paid on a 12-month cycle. That's an option subcontracted school bus drivers and custodians don't have. These educational workers are not given guarantees that jobs will be available at the end of the summer as the school system has ultimate discretion over what work will be needed or not for the fall and spring classes. 
Butler further states that it was the Georgia DOL not the federal government that ‘determined’ through its own review that a rule change is necessary now. 
Georgia’s unemployment trust fund has been negligently de-funded for over a decade through tax breaks to businesses that all started when the economy was strong. That de-funding has continued through the recession. 
With the passage of legislation signed into law by Gov. Deal earlier this month, Georgians now have among the lowest number of weeks of benefits in the country. They now receive benefits from 12-20 weeks, down from 26 weeks. 
Currently, there are 1.7 million Georgians living in poverty. There are 482,321 unemployed workers in our state, while only one-third receive unemployment benefits. Every job opening has five job seekers competing for it.
Unemployed workers may be a good political scapegoat, but they are not the problem. 
Cutting unemployment benefits for Georgia’s educational workers is bad economic policy at the worst possible time for working families and small businesses.