School bus drivers protest unemployment rule change - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

School bus drivers protest unemployment rule change

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

More than 400 local school bus drivers are mad and taking action.

For 16 years, those workers were allowed to collect unemployment when the school year ended, claiming it was a seasonal lay off. Well, not anymore.

WTOC broke the story two weeks ago when bus drivers at First Student said they first learned about the change to unemployment benefits made by the Georgia Department of Labor. The state spokesman told WTOC the rules were changed because of a conflict between state and federal law after two public hearings in Atlanta late last year.

The change not only effects school bus drivers, but contracted workers, including security, drivers and dining room employees, at universities including SCAD and Savannah State University.

Wednesday morning, more than 100 local school bus drivers protested outside the Savannah branch of the Department of Labor and then marched to the front doors before being told no one would speak with them.

As of right now, the state's decision stands. The state says notice of the unemployment change was posted on their website back in February. They called it fair warning.

The bus drivers disagree, and took their unhappiness to the streets.

"I have no reason to look at the website. I mean, I am employed. So unless I am unemployed, that's the only reason I need to look at it," Shaleena Kimble told WTOC.

Kimble is a single mother of two, including a two week old baby boy. She has worked as a school bus driver in Chatham County the last eight years. Every summer,  she collects unemployment from June to August. She's not the only one, as most of the bus drivers protesting outside the labor department on White Bluff Road are in the same situation.

While the state says the change had to happen now, these bus drivers did not take no for an answer and headed straight to the doors of the office. They were cut off by security at the door, as an officer told them they were not allowed inside and told a career fair would be held at 2 p.m., which most of them would be back working and unable to attend.

They were told if they had questions to contact State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

Some already have made the call, worried they aren't making much as it is, and in two weeks, they won't have *any* income.

"I am barely making it now. So, right now, I don't know what to do. What's my next step? I mean they are not even giving us a sense to say we'll help you through this summer until the next school term. What are we supposed to do?" Kimble told WTOC.

"I called. They told me we weren't getting unemployment because we have a job to go back to," Kristy Hurley told WTOC.

"When we are out on summer months, it is a layoff. A lack of work," Charlesetta Lewis said.

The protests may continue, but WTOC spoke to State Labor Spokesman Tom Krause and he says the drivers can attend local career centers to find summer work. Krause says "there has been an increase in temporary summer work."

Those are not the answers the bus drivers were looking for.

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Unemployment jobless benefits change

Click here to view details on summertime jobless benefit change.

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