Those in the rally outside the headquarters of the Georgia Department of Labor chanted and waved signs to protest a February decision by Labor Commissioner Mark Butler to stop paying unemployment-insurance benefits to private employees of schools while they are out of work in the summer.
It effects employees of private companies with school contracts, like the one Kelley Grant works for at the cafeteria of Agnes Scott College in Decatur. Word of the policy change came too late to build up adequate savings or find summer work, she said.
“I have been stressing. I have been worrying. What am I going to do?” she said.
Also affected are around 800 employees of First Student, a company that provides transportation for the Savannah school system. Bus driver Alvin Edwards made the trip to the rally and vowed to repeat it until Butler reverses his decision.
“It was a such a shock. ... We were pretty much dead. We couldn’t believe what was said,” he said, adding that he was dreading having to have friends and churches for charity. “... As a man, you expect to be productive. You expect to be able to provide for your family.”
Butler has said the law prohibits the benefits and that payments in past years were improper.
After the rally, the head of the Georgia AFL-CIO, Charlie Flemming, sought a meeting with Butler but was told the commissioner was out of town. So each of the two dozen or so people at the demonstration individually signed a request for a meeting.
"I think it’s a budget issue. He's not looking at the workers and their families," Flemming said. "He's looking at his budget."
Butler’s office distributed a statement from him earlier on the issue.
“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,” he said. “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.