Media Coverage: School Workers March to Support Unemployment Benefits

Equal Voice: America’s Family Story
April 23, 2013
By Bradley Wong
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The battle for unemployment benefits for contract school workers spilled into Atlanta streets Saturday, as about 250 people called for full disbursement of denied money from the Georgia state government and no similar withholding in the future.

The contract workers are owed about $300 to $3,700 per person in benefits for scheduled school holidays from 2012 to this year, Atlanta Jobs with Justice reported. Many workers are receiving the benefits and they rallied to hold state officials accountable.

The U.S. Labor Department sent state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler a letter dated April 2, informing him that federal dollars for unemployment insurance could be in jeopardy if he did not issue $8 million in withheld benefits to 4,000 privately-employed people working under contract at Georgia schools.

Butler withheld unemployment benefits to these individuals during scheduled school vacations. Public school district teachers and employees do not receive such benefits and this rule should apply to contract workers, according to a statement from his office.

Community groups, including 9to5 Atlanta, objected to that rationale, saying public school teachers and employees typically have their pay spread throughout the calendar year.

About 250 contract school workers and their supporters held a rally on Saturday in Atlanta to call attention to denied unemployment benefits. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Jobs with Justice

“9to5 members celebrate with school worker,” the organization said in a statement. “But we realize the fight is not over. …9to5 will continue to stand in solidarity and fight to win justice for school workers.”

Many public school districts have hired part-time, contract workers to drive buses, staff crosswalks and serve cafeteria food as one way to save money, according to Butler’s office and community groups.

These companies tell contract employees to file for unemployment benefits during academic holidays in the winter, spring and summer.

Butler believes these contract workers should be paid throughout the year. “We will begin making retroactive payments to these (companies) employees because I will protect unemployment insurance and workforce programs for Georgians who deserve them,” he said in a statement.

“The larger picture is that school workers need a collective voice in Georgia,” said Roger Sikes, an organizer with Atlanta Jobs with Justice.

In a statement from 9to5, Angela Goddard, a second grade teacher at Faith Christian Academy, said she was relieved to hear the news.

“Now, we won’t be hurting like we did last summer,” she said. “I hope nobody has to go through what my family and I had to go through. Last summer, I was not able to find a job and went without income.”

Community groups remain concerned that unemployment benefit cuts might be enacted into state law.


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