A federal agency’s decision might lead to thousands of Georgia bus drivers, cafeteria workers and private school teachers getting summer unemployment benefits after the state denied them the money.
State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler had instituted a benefits change earlier this year, saying it was unfair to pay the seasonal benefits when public school system employees don’t get them.
But U.S. Department of Labor officials determined that Georgia violated workplace laws by refusing to pay the benefits.
Federal officials have ordered Butler to rescind the ruling and pay the teachers and contract workers, according to a letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the Aug. 2 letter, the U.S. Labor Department wrote that Butler’s recent “reinterpretation” of unemployment compensation is without “adequate statutory basis.”
However, Butler said employees were not being treated the same under the old rules.
“We were treating people employed directly by a public school system, or a university, differently than somebody who was contracted by a school system,” Butler told the Journal-Constitution Monday. “In cases where you have a great probability of returning to contracted work, then you’re not eligible for unemployment.”
State labor officials have sought legal guidance on the matter from Georgia’s attorney general.
While Butler was given a month to seek legal guidance, the news of a potential refund was welcomed by Augusta school crossing guards, who were outraged earlier this year when they learned after applying for the seasonal benefits that they were no longer eligible.
“It’s terrible, especially when they didn’t give us any notice. They just sent us down there to apply,” lead Augusta crossing guard Susan Smith said.
Several of Augusta’s 72 guards were still angry about it when they met for an organizational meeting last week, Smith said.
“A lot of us are still trying to dig out of the hole,” she said.
She wondered how, now that school is back in session, they’d obtain the benefits. Recipients of unemployment benefits typically must demonstrate their weekly efforts to obtain other work.
The payments — potentially millions of dollars — would come from businesses and/or taxpayers.