The seven witnesses representing work places from Savannah, Columbus, Atlanta and Lithia Springs, GA sat poised, flanking the impressive set of nine judges, who sat solemnly in their court robes reading over the evidence of the case.
The defendant's bench sat ominously empty, with nothing but a name tent straddling the seat that read, "Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler."
The prosecutor is called to introduce the charges and a tall, sharply dressed man strolls slowly but purposefully to the court's microphone.
"I come before you today on behalf of the People of Georgia, to bring charges against Mark Butler, Labor Commissioner...."
"The Commissioner has failed to perform his duties, has unjustly and unlawfully denied workers their benefits and has shocked the conscience of fair-minded people everywhere.
The case against the Commissioner is simple:
After 30 years of precedent, defendant Butler unilaterally made a decision to re-interpret Georgia’s long-standing qualifications for payment of earned Unemployment Benefits.
The facts of the case are also simple:
During the recent economic downturn, Georgia’s unemployment reserve fund became insufficient to cover the claims of eligible workers.
It was not the fault of workers that the State decided to borrow money from the Federal Government to cover the shortfall.
It was not the fault of workers that the State did not adequately plan to pay back this Federal loan.
To solve the problem…of all the choices that could be made, the Commissioner made the wrong choice every time.
He chose to blindside workers by hiding his changing of the rules. Workers were not notified until they sought their lawfully due benefits, and were forced to be shocked and shamed at the DOL counter.
He chose to make up the fund shortfall at the expense of workers, not the companies who received the tax holiday.
He chose to ignore the fact that the benefits workers sought, were to come directly from corporate contributions already made to pay their workers in the event of lay-off. It was not the Commissioners money. It was not taxpayers money. It was the workers money.
And most recently the Commissioner chose to ignore the directive of the US Dept. of Labor. He was told he was unlawfully administering a Federal-State program. He was told that he should not only reverse his “do not pay” decision, but also that he should retroactively pay workers their due.
And in response, the Commissioner again chose the wrong path. He has decided to further disrespect and blow off workers by attempting to legally challenge the DOL directive. And that incidently, will be at the cost of taxpayers.
In sum, fair judges, you will be hearing expert testimony that provide the details of the Commissioners unlawful actions. You will be hearing worker testimony about the undeserved hardships he has caused for them and their families. And you will be hearing testimony about the Commissioner conspiring to develop the scheme to make employee victims pay the bill that should have been sent to employers.
As prosecutor, I ask the jury to consider all the damning evidence and convict the defendant. It is up to you to stand up for what is right. It is up to you to send a strong message to all elected officials that they must fulfill their Oath of Office, they cannot scheme to get away with theft by taking and deception, and that they cannot make false statements."
With the charges laid out crystal clear all eyes moved to the defendant's bench. Although summoned to the court, the defendant chose not to attend. In his absence his public statement is read about his decision to cut off benefits to Georgia school workers .....
"For the past several years, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, crossing guards and pre-kindergarten employees not employed by a public school system were able to collect unemployment benefits during summer months - this included private school employees and people working for private companies contracting with public schools. This policy, unfortunately, conflicted with federal and state laws.
The law requires us to treat all educational workers fairly and the same. 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. Georgia Department of Labor rules must comply with existing law. To effectively serve as stewards of unemployment-tax money, the rule regarding summertime unemployment benefits had to be changed.
Teachers were not previously allowed to receive unemployment insurance benefits during regularly scheduled breaks in work. Non-teaching educational employees, such as school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and crossing guards must be treated the same as all other educational employees such as teachers, substitute teachers and administrators. An educational worker, unemployed during a summer or customary break with reasonable assurance to return to the same or similar job for the next school term, is not entitled to benefits.
Our limited resources for unemployment benefits are reserved for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are seeking another job. I am hopeful that the coming months will bring greater prosperity for all Georgians."
The audience reacted viscerally to the statement, with over 50 impacted Georgia school workers present at the court, hearing the defense for the first time hit deep. The politician's words seemed to clash with a sickening thud on the complete economic deprivation currently experienced by so many in attendance as a result of this man.
Order was kept in the court room and all eyes turned to the impressive set of worker leaders that were about to give their testimony......