More than 4,000 Georgia education workers who have been wrongfully denied unemployment insurance benefits since a 2011 ruling by the state’s labor commissioner will collect more than $8 million in back payments.
A coalition of unions and community groups kept the issue alive and this week, at their urging, the U.S. Department of Labor stepped in and warned Labor Commissioner Mark Butler his actions violated the law and the state could lose $18 million in federal grants used for unemployment and benefits. Butler announced Thursday he was reversing his earlier decision to deny the workers' benefits.
Says Georgia AFL-CIO President Charlie Flemming:
This is a great victory for workers and this proves that when we all come together, we can make a difference. I want to thank the United States Department of Labor for ensuring that Georgia is meeting the requirements of the federal law. We had community groups, labor and elected officials fight for workers who did nothing wrong but were punished. We built this coalition to fight the injustice placed upon these workers. And we all fought hard and the workers won. We look forward to working with all parties in coming up with a permanent solution.
The workers are privately employed public school and university employees such as bus drivers and cooks who, unlike publicly employed school workers, are not paid year around. In 2011, Butler began denying those workers unemployment benefits.
Roger Sikes, an organizer with Atlanta Jobs with Justice, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
It’s a big victory for folks to get the benefits they deserve. Through no fault of their own, they were denied unemployment benefits by Georgia’s own labor commissioner.
Most of the workers were not union members, but the Georgia AFL-CIO and the Teamsters—who filed suit to restore the benefits—helped organize the workers’ actions to restore the benefits. Just this week at Morehouse College, union members, workers and students held a vigil for the impacted workers (see photo, above).