Georgia Voices: Fixing unemployment benefits
by The Savannah Morning News
February 04, 2014 12:00 AM | 1920 views | 0 0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The concept is simple:

Unemployment benefits are meant for workers who lost jobs through no fault of their own and are actively looking for other employment. They’re not designed for seasonal workers who already have jobs but need money to tide themselves over when they’re not working.

That’s a discrepancy that Georgia lawmakers hope to fix.

A House committee is scheduled to vote on legislation that would prevent the private employees of school contractors from collecting unemployment benefits during Christmas and summer holidays. This matter surfaced in Savannah and elsewhere in Georgia last year, when the Georgia Department of Labor told about 64,000 bus drivers, custodians, traffic guards and cafeteria workers that they couldn’t receive unemployment benefits during the summer holidays.

These workers erupted. The U.S. Labor Department later directed the state to pay benefits, saying the state was incorrectly interpreting Georgia law related to school workers.

So what must happen now is simple: State legislators must fix the law.

House Bill 714 is sponsored by the chairman of the House Industry and Labor Committee who is considering it, Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming). He happens to be the founder of a temporary-staffing agency. So he knows how some private employers play the game, which is unfair to Georgia employers.

The bill seeks to restore the state Department of Labor practice before the federal government ruled that, in the absence of a specific legal restriction, the state must pay unemployment benefits to private workers idled by school holidays. Teachers and other staffers working directly for school districts aren’t affected. Their pay is based on a year-round work schedule, even though they don’t work summers or when school isn’t in session.

Instead, the targets are private companies that contract with school systems. They don’t pay their workers based on 12 months of work and don’t spread out paychecks through the year. Instead, these firms consider their workers off the job when school isn’t in session — and hence unemployed and eligible for state benefits until school begins again in the fall.

These workers do honest, important and necessary work. It’s wrong to knowingly underpay them, with the knowledge that other Georgia employers will be making up the difference.

A day’s work should mean a day’s pay. Not a paid day off at someone else’s expense.

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