School Workers Celebrate the Return of Summer Unemployment Benef - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

School Workers Celebrate the Return of Summer Unemployment Benefits

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SAVANNAH, GA -

School workers employed by private companies are celebrating they won't have to struggle to make ends meet this summer. The change comes just days after local First Student bus drivers rallied to get their benefits back. 

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler cut unemployment for school contractual workers last year, saying he wanted everyone in education treated the same.  The reversal stems from the U.S. Department of Labor ruling that Butler overstepped his bounds and would potentially cut off federal funding for Georgia's unemployment insurance programs if the ruling didn't change. 

Besides being able to apply for summer benefits some workers will even receive money they missed out on last summer.   

Butler said the state will pay around $8 million to nearly 4,000 school workers who were denied payments last year. The money will come from the state's unemployment trust fund, which businesses pay taxes to.

The First Student bus drivers said their prayers have been answered.

"The bills are going to get paid. I won't have to apply for food stamps again, I won't have to struggle to keep gas in the car, I won't have to worry about getting an eviction notice," said First Student Bus Driver Edith Dunlap.

While these contracted school workers feel like a load has been lifted, Butler said he isn't finished trying to get these employees off unemployment. 

"This has never been an attack on the workers. This is going after companies that are obviously gaming the system," said Butler.

Butler said the private companies who hire these school workers have been able to save school districts money because they aren't paying its workers year round like public school employees. 

"They've been able to do it cheaper. They refuse to pay these individuals over the breaks and instead encourage or tell the individuals that they need to go apply for unemployment during those summer breaks," said Butler.

However, the private companies are paying unemployment benefits to the state, but Butler said it doesn't equal what the state pays back to the workers.

"There was one company that we saw paid in to the system about $380 thousand in unemployment taxes and they were paying at the very highest tax rate. We paid out on the same company on the same employees $1.2 million," said Butler.

Butler would like to see these private companies pay their employees year round. 

"We chose to clarify the definition of educational workers so we would have uniformity across the state so every worker who works in educational job would be treated the exact same," said Butler.

But bus drivers are ready to fight if their benefits are stripped again.

"We'll still be out their fighting but we won this one and I'm very happy, very happy," said First Student Bus Driver Leslie Jenkins.

Originally school workers planned on marching in Atlanta later this month to try and get their benefits back but News 3 was told it will be a celebration rally instead.

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