Atlanta School Workers Call on Workers’ Rights Board
Every year, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, crossing guards and other contracted school employees rely on unemployment to provide for their families during mandatory breaks. But this year, the Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner, Mark Butler, arbitrarily barred these workers from receiving benefits after being laid-off. Despite numerous requests to remedy the situation the Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler has refused to budge.
Reba Shinholster a Sodexo food service worker at Georgia Tech states that "We can't pay our bills, we're not eating, we don't have money to buy food, it's the truth, it's impacting our lives. The way that he is treating people is not right.
A delegation of labor leaders met with Butler on August 13th, and his office and the state attorney general are now “reviewing the case.”
Butler’s decision is unprecedented, and reverses years of providing benefits to workers who are periodically laid off from their jobs. Even the US Department of Labor responded to the change in a letter, noting “For at least 30 years it has been clear that while some educational workers may find temporary work over the summer, those private sector educational employees who do not, and those employers who have paid into the UI system are eligible for unemployment benefits.” The US DoL later asks Butler to “…please cease administering this regulatory and policy change immediately.”
Butler was given 30 days to respond.
On Tuesday August 7th, Atlanta Jobs with Justice went to the Georgia Department of Labor (DoL) on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to collectively demand the unemployment benefits owed to workers. 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.
The message to Butler was clear: we are building across work places and are not going away.
The group collectively entered the DoL and asked to speak with the manager. 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. Said Atlanta JwJ, “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."
Next, the Atlanta Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board will host a "People's Court" so that the broader 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 the Atlanta community by denying unemployment benefits to 64,000 Georgians.
The People's Court will take place:
Saturday August 18th 11:00 am to 1:30 pm
First Iconium Baptist Church,
542 Moreland Ave. SE Atlanta, GA 30316
MARTA: Inman Park-Reynoldstown Station, then #34 bus to church
Georgia School Workers (more speakers to be announced):
- Reba Shinholster - Sodexo Food Service Worker at Georgia Institute of Technology
- Velmar Hightower - Aramark Food Service Worker at Spelman College
- Olivia Currie - Bus Driver at Ft. Benning Columbus, GA
- Angela Goddard - K-12 Teacher Faith Christian Academy Griffin, GA
- Kathy Stafford - First Transit Bus Driver at Georgia State University
- Belinda Myles - Georgia Pre-K Teacher
Judges (Workers' Rights Board) will include:
- Azedeh Shahshahani - National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director, ACLU of Georgia; President-Elect, National Lawyers Guild
- Derrick Boazman - Host of Too Much Truth, WAOK
- Reverend Samuel Mosteller - President of the Georgia Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
- Fr. Bruce Schultz, O.P. - Our Lady of Lourdes
- Bobbie Paul - Executive Director of Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (Georgia WAND)
- Janice Mathis - Vice-President of the Rainbow Push Coalition
- State Senator Nan Orrock
- State Senator Vincent Fort
- George K. Johnson - Big Bethel AME Church
For more information, see www.atlantajwj.org.