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Monday, March 4, 2013 - 12:24pm

Schoolworkers' Jobless Pay Targeted

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would deny jobless benefits to school workers employed by private companies during summers and holidays. Backers say it would save the state money, but critics say the bill merely favors private companies, including charter school management firms.

By federal law, bus drivers, janitors and others employed by public school systems can’t apply for jobless benefits during summers and holidays.

The bill’s sponsors say it would level the playing field between them and workers employed by private firms.

Mark Butler is Georgia’s labor commissioner. He says the rules need to be the same for public schools and private contractors whose workers provide the same services.

“A lot of these private companies that have come in have been gaming the system," he said. "They tell these employees, ‘You are still employed, you still have benefits but we want you to get unemployment benefits when we’re not using you’.”

Unions representing some of these workers say the jobless benefits ensure experienced bus drivers, for example, return after the summer break.

And they say lawmakers are carrying water for private schools that want to save money on unemployment.

Eric Robertson is with the Teamsters union, which represents bus drivers in Chatham County and elsewhere. He says say private schools, contractors and charter school management companies are just trying to save money.

“The charter school management companies and the daycare companies are pushing this bill," he said in an interview. "That’s because they don’t want to pay unemployment to their employees.”

Companies pay unemployment taxes to the state partly based on how often their employees access jobless benefits.

State officials say the bill would save Georgia $8 million.