Fri., May 18, 2012 4:40pm (EDT)

School Workers Face Summer Cuts
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 2 years ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
Some bus drivers are among those who could be facing a summer without income.  The Georgia Department of Labor has changed a policy regarding summer unemployment benefits for privately-employed education workers.  (photo FreeFoto.com)
Some bus drivers are among those who could be facing a summer without income. The Georgia Department of Labor has changed a policy regarding summer unemployment benefits for privately-employed education workers. (photo FreeFoto.com)
A new state policy ends summer unemployment checks for a wide range of school workers employed by private contractors.

While bus drivers in Savannah this week protested the seasonal pay cut, the impact is statewide.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says, paying jobless benefits to privately-employed education workers like cafeteria, janitorial and transportation staff violates federal law and is unfair.

That's because federal law bars unemployment checks to those who reasonably expect to return to their jobs and because many such workers on the public payroll don't get the same benefits.

But union organizer Ben Speight of the Teamsters says, the workers never know if they'll return after summer and many public workers get year-round pay.

"This is just another incarnation of an attack against the working people of Georgia," Speight says.

The workers say, they didn't find out about the change until recently. The workers now face months without income.

"They're being irresponsible and reckless about how these cuts were administered and showing just a total lack of concern about the impacts it's going to have on these drivers," Speight says.

Butler says, his agency held a public hearing about the change in Atlanta in December and advertised it across the state.

"The law requires us to treat all educational workers fairly and the same," Butler says. "When reviewing our educational worker policy and US Department of Labor's interpretation of reasonable assurance, we determined that a rule change was necessary to be in compliance with the law.

The policy affects about 400 Savannah-area bus drivers employed by First Student.

But elsewhere, it could cut summer pay for thousands of school workers employed by companies like Sedexho, Compass and Aramark.