First Student employees win battle with Ga. Dept. of Labor - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

School bus drivers win battle with Georgia Department of Labor

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

The U.S. Department of Labor has told the State of Georgia it made a mistake taking away seasonal unemployment benefits from school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, crossing guards and others.  

In a letter to Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, dated August 2, 2012, the federal government says people employed by private employers, including private bus drivers, are entitled to seasonal unemployment benefits if there is no work for them to do. The interpretation of Georgia law by Butler was called into question and requested the rules and policies be reversed immediately.

"Please respond to this letter in writing within 30 days of receipt to inform us of the actions the Georgia DOL will take to ensure the same law conforms to the requirements of Federal and state unemployment compensation law, and that all individuals who were improperly denied UC under the revised regulation are paid the compensation they are entitled," wrote Gay Gilbert, office of Unemployment Insurance commissioner.

64,000 workers affected across the State of Georgia are now wondering when they will be paid. 

"They told him (Butler) he has 30 days to answer. Now he is asking for more time. More time is time we can't wait. We have people losing their homes. People can't buy food. People having utilities cut off," Jerome Irwin, Savannah branch Teamsters Union, told WTOC.

First Student employees in Chatham County were thrilled with the news, but skeptical of the state's intentions to follow through with the Federal ruling.

"I sure need my money. I am my own sole provider and its been kind of rough," Brenda Turner, First Student bus driver, told WTOC. She has been driving buses since 1979 and has received summer unemployment since it was introduced 16 years ago.

"I'm glad and would be more glad if we get to see the end result. Until then, we still need to stand and make our position known," Michael Stamps, First Student bus driver, said.

Stamps has had to work out a payment plan with utilities companies because of a shortage of money due to his unemployment being denied. 

The Teamsters union in Savannah represents more than 600 people from First Student, First Transit and Coastal Empire colleges and universities. The rallies and protests all summer long  seem to have paid off, according to the Teamsters. 

The U.S. Department of Labor got involved and reversed Commissioner Mark Butler's earlier rule change, which went into effect in February.

The Teamster's say the federal government has told Butler his interpretation of Georgia law, which he called unfair, was wrong and money should be paid back for unemployment lost.

Getting the money the government says they are due may take a while.

"It brings some kind of satisfaction to know someone would come to our aid and say this was wrong," Stamps said.

"I just wish Mark Butler would hurry up and make a decision and release our money," Turner said.

"Now, he has the ruling from the government but Butler is still trying to do a stall tactic on us. So, therefore, we have to put the pressure where we can put it," Irwin said.

The state Teamsters are having a "People's Court" rally in front of the Department of Labor at 11 a.m. Saturday in Atlanta.

Despite requests, there has been no statement or comment from the office of Mark Butler to WTOC.

Copyright 2012 WTOC. All rights reserved.

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