Monday, July 23, 2012

Justice for School Workers Collective Action, Collective Prayer.

On Tuesday we had an action at the Department of Labor (DoL) on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.  We wanted to collectively demand the unemployment benefits owed to workers and send a clear message to Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler that we are building across work places and we are not going away.

Workers from multiple work places were represented including food service workers from Georgia Tech Sodexo, Emory Sodexo, Clark Sodexo, Spelman Aramark, bus drivers from GSU 1st Transit, Ft. Benning Taylor Motors and "Smart Kids" Pre-K education.  Students from Emory Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS), as well as students from Morehouse and Clark participated as part of the UAW Global Organizing Institute.

We collectively entered the DoL and asked to speak with the manager.  While we were waiting for the manager some of the drivers from Ft. Benning and others engaged with the unemployed Georgians that were already waiting at the DoL office, passing out fliers and letting folks know why we were there.  We waited for the manager to come and address us, but the manager never appeared so we started doing chants in the lobby to be sure we got our message across "No ifs, no buts, no unemployment cuts!"  Inside the office on the wall there is a picture of Mark Butler beaming.  Many of the workers wanted him to understand what they were going through... One bus driver asked how he would feel if 3 months of income was suddenly denied without warning.  With a salary of $120,000 Mark Butler wouldn't feel it like every single one of the school workers does, but perhaps it would help him to empathize on some level.


We brought out the bull horn and various workers gave testimony to the office about what they were going through and also what they wanted from Mark Butler: reinstatement of unemployment benefits and the moneys owed to them that they have already been denied.  Channel 11 filmed the testimony from workers.  Eventually the police showed up.  At this point we all circled up and kneeled down together to pray in the lobby. We then left the lobby and heard testimony from school workers outside of the office and de-briefed the action.


What's next?

The compelling stories from the school workers demand a deeper understanding.  The work that they do, the lives that they touch and the people that rely on  weave the fabric of our community.  The Atlanta Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board will be hosting a "People's Court" so that our community can hear these stories.  Mark Butler will be invited to the event to share his side of the situation as well.  There will be "judges" at the event (community leaders, faith leaders, professors and local celebrities) that will hear both sides of the situation.  And the community in attendance will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not Mark Butler has trespassed on the well being of our community by denying unemployment benefits to 64,000 Georgians.  This event will be taking place on August 18th, 11:00 am to 1:30 pm.  Location to be announced.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ten Steps You Can Take to Support The Justice for School Workers Campaign

About 65,000 School Workers across the State of Georgia have lost access to unemployment benefits ever since GA Labor Commissioner, Mark Butler, unilaterally decided to cut these workers off from the unemployment insurance they have been paying into and receiving for over 16 years.  

Georgia's schools workers across the state have begun to stand up against this arbitrary change in the unemployment benefits policy.  It is important to continue this fight and to stand up for restored benefits and stable jobs for theses workers.

School workers,their friends and family members, concerned citizens, and community groups, can take several simple actions to stand up to Mark Butler and make him reverse his unemployment benefits decision.

1. Speak with School Workers, Teachers, Coworkers, Community Organizations, and Other Concerned Individuals about this issue

2. Pass out fact sheets about the issue (Soon to be released)

3. Sign and Share the Online Petition to the Georgia Department of Labor, and encourage everyone you know to also sign and share the petition

4. Distribute paper petitions/sign-up sheets to gather signatures and local support

5. Host meetings on how to address the issue within your community 

6. Plan events, press conferences, protests, rallies at your nearest GA Department of Labor Offices to pressure Mark Butler to reinstate benefits for school workers

7. Recruit members of your community to take part in these actions 

8. Share info on the issue over Email, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc., 
(Follow Atlanta Jobs with Justice on Email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, to receive updates)

9. Contact Mark Butler at the Georgia Department of Labor and tell him to reinstate unemployment benefits for school workers across the state
Call him at 404-232-7300 & Email him at Commissioner@gdol.ga.gov

10. Contact Atlanta Jobs with Justice for any help and support by email at admin@atlantajwj.org or by phone at 404-913-9595

Georgia School Workers Stand Up Across State!

Mark Butler the Georgia Labor Commissioner
The precarious employment situation for school workers has been laid bare by the Georgia Labor Commissioner's callous decision to remove unemployment benefits for thousands of school workers (64,702 Georgians were classified as private "educational workers" according to the US bureau of Labor Statistics).  School workers (many of which are making wages well below the federal poverty level for a family of four) are laid off over summer months and other school breaks and therefore have relied on unemployment benefits as their only source of income.  This removal of income came as a complete surprise to many Georgia school workers as articulated by this Pre-K teacher in Norcross, GA:

"We had no idea about the new law.  Our employer told us nothing and the only thing we'd heard in the news was that bus drivers and cafeteria workers were no longer getting the benefit.  So, I've been being very patient like the instructor of my unemployment class advised.  Then, here comes the denial letter explaining that since I am guaranteed work in August, I don't qualify for the benefit.  I am in panic mode right now.  I have told everyone to give me until July to make payments because unemployment is backed up and now I am screwed.  There are no jobs, I have no children so no one will help me.  I don't expect a handout and I had a small savings, but it is gone.  I am upset because my employer told us nothing.  I could have been better prepared for this.  I feel betrayed!"


Pre-K Teachers in Norcross, GA Speak Out on Fox 5
It is no surprise that school workers from across the state are standing together and calling for an immediate reversal of Mark Butler's ruling.  This past week a group of 30 brave crossing guards in Augusta, GA went together to the Department of Labor to demand answers, they were escorted off of the premises by authorities.

Teachers in Griffin, GA are lifting their voices and connecting with other impacted workers across the state.

Impacted drivers in Columbus, GA are working with local community organizations to build public support and share resources.  Columbus workers are networking with their church congregations and meeting with local representatives to build a base of support for their upcoming speak outs and actions.

This weekend in Atlanta, GA food service workers from colleges and universities across the city as well as educational workers from through out the state are building a strategy together.  Impacted workers are getting connected because they are reaching out to communicate.

Workers are calling our office, calling their co-workers, e-mailing supportive organizations, posting on their Facebook walls, signing petitions and more.  All of these actions are simple first steps that help to build communication with the thousands of impacted workers that may feel stranded.  Please reach out to your co-workers, congregations, neighbors and anyone being impacted by this change.  Call our office at 404-913-9595 or e-mail us at admin@atlantajwj.org

Know that you are not alone.  There are thousands of hard working Georgians (and their families) that have been debilitated by Mark Butler's cold and reckless decision.  When thousands of educational workers, community supporters, unions and other allies come together and support each other, we are strong.  Mark Butler expected a whimper... It shows how out of touch he is with hard working Georgians.  By the way, Mark Butler's office number is 404-232-7300.  He is a state wide elected public official and needs to hear from the people of Georgia.  Let him know that you expect educational workers to receive unemployment benefits when they are laid off.

Monday, July 2, 2012

AJC Covers Seasonal Unemployment Issue

By: Dan Chapman, Nancy Badertscher; Staff - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution June 30, 2012

No more jobless checks for many workers who are off in the summer.

Thousands of Georgia private school teachers, contract bus drivers and cafeteria workers who used to receive unemployment benefits during the summer are no longer eligible for those checks under newly enforced Georgia labor rules.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said public school teachers, who have long been ineligible for the benefits, had cried foul, as had private pre-kindergarten administrators whose unemployment insurance costs rise with each jobless claim.

The regulatory change comes as Georgia pushes to trim unemployment rolls --- and its stubbornly high unemployment rate of 8.9 percent. Last month, 210,414 Georgians received unemployment benefits.

Labor departments don't track employment by occupation, making it impossible to determine how many workers got seasonal jobless benefits. But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics labeled 64,702 Georgians as private "educational service" workers last September, a category that includes teachers, assistants and other educators employed by private companies on contracts for public schools and universities. Thousands of other contractually employed Georgians drove buses, cleaned toilets or served meatloaf at schools across the state.

Federal law lets states decide whether to offer benefits to workers whose jobs don't last year-round, such as contract school bus drivers, lifeguards and actors.

Butler said factory workers and others who might apply for seasonal unemployment benefits won't be affected by this change.

"We were treating private education employees different than we were public education employees. So it's just a fairness issue so that we treat all education workers the same," Butler said. "Unemployment insurance is for people who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It's not intended to be supplemental income."

But for years, thousands of contract bus drivers, pre-k teachers, cafeteria workers, landscapers, janitors and crossing guards who work for private companies have depended upon weekly unemployment checks to supplement their earnings. (Private schools and day care centers usually offer teachers starting pay of about $25,000 to $28,000; public school teachers average $32,000 starting pay.)

Everton Daswell, one of thousands of Georgians caught unaware by the change, said it's unfair to strip jobless benefits that amount to as much as one-fifth of an annual salary.

"My income has dropped drastically," said Daswell, a shuttle bus driver at Kennesaw State University employed by a private contractor. "I have put some of my bills on hold. I am just barely making the mortgage. I had set my budget on receiving unemployment benefits."

In the 1970s, Washington ruled that public school teachers, whose salaries are typically paid out over 12 months, weren't eligible for benefits during summer breaks. Teachers, with an expectation of being back at work in the fall, aren't considered laid-off --- the main criteria to receive unemployment benefits. (Catholic school employees in Atlanta also aren't eligible.)

Angela Goddard teaches fourth grade at Faith Christian Academy, a private school in Griffin. On May 31, the last day of school, she applied for unemployment benefits as she had the two previous years.

This time, Goddard's claim was denied. Goddard said her family will be squeezed financially until she receives her next school paycheck Aug. 15.

"We'll make it through somehow," Goddard said, saying she'll probably turn to family members for a loan. "We're real people. We're not just a statistic or a number that DOL is trying to cut."

Georgia, which must repay the federal government $745 million for jobless assistance borrowed during the recession, has whittled the number of unemployment beneficiaries this year, as well as the amount of money they receive. Curtailing seasonal unemployment benefits will free up money that could help repay Washington.

"But this is really about applying the law the way it's supposed to be," Butler said.

The commissioner said he first heard complaints from "multiple employers and public school employees" last year. He held a public hearing in December, before the eligibility change took effect Jan. 30 --- enough time, Butler said, for workers without jobs in the summer to learn about it.

Carolyn Salvador, director of the Georgia Child Care Association, said private pre-k teachers routinely file for unemployment benefits in the summer and during Christmas break. If the workers are approved for benefits, the pre-k provider is on the hook for additional unemployment insurance costs, which cuts into slim profit margins. About 1,100 pre-k schools have closed since 2009, Salvador said, victims largely of the recession.

Salvador and Goddard, the Griffin private school teacher, say some employers encourage their workers to apply for benefits during the summer --- in effect a subsidy that benefits employers.

Robbin Plesher, owner of Discover Point Child Development Center franchises in Alpharetta and Acworth, is fighting an employee's attempt to collect unemployment this summer. The employee was offered and turned down summer work at the center and immediately filed to collect unemployment, Plesher said.

Fifteen states restrict unemployment benefits to workers who earn the bulk of their salaries in seasonal jobs. Rick McHugh, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project, a pro-labor think tank, expects more states to impose benefit restrictions.

"You're supposed to be protecting people from the risk of involuntary wage loss," he said. "At what point do we quit having what can be called unemployment insurance?"