ATLANTA — Private school teachers, contract bus drivers, cafeteria cooks and other privately employed school workers in Georgia have been cut off from collecting unemployment checks during summer breaks under a change in state regulations that makes them follow the same rules that have long applied to public school teachers.
The change comes as Georgia struggles with 8.9 percent unemployment and 210,414 people who collected jobless benefits in May. But state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said it was largely complaints from teachers, who have long been unable to collect summer unemployment checks, that prompted his office to prohibit school workers who have seasonal jobs from receiving unemployment payments during the months they're off from work.
"We were treating private education employees different than we were public education employees. So it's just a fairness issue so that we treat all education workers the same," Butler said. "Unemployment insurance is for people who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It's not intended to be supplemental income."
Still, many contract bus drivers, pre-kindergarten teachers, cafeteria workers, janitors, landscapers and crossing guards employed by private companies have depended on weekly unemployment checks to get them through the summer season.
It's unclear how many school workers in Georgia the change affects. The state doesn't track employment by occupation. However, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 64,702 Georgians were employed as "educational service" workers last September. The category includes teachers, assistants and other educators who are privately employed and work on a contract basis for public schools and universities.
Georgia school workers said they're already feeling the blow to their incomes.
Everton Daswell, who's employed through a private contractor to drive a shuttle bus at Kennesaw State University, said the change is costing him roughly 20 percent of his annual wages.
"My income has dropped drastically," Daswell said. "I have put some of my bills on hold. I am just barely making the mortgage. I had set my budget on receiving unemployment benefits."
Under federal law, states get to decide whether to offer unemployment to workers whose jobs don't last year-round. In Georgia, factory workers and other seasonal employees who don't work for schools won't be cut off from seeking benefits under the change to Georgia's rules, Butler said.