School support workers protest summer benefits cuts

Updated:

Protesters insisted it's unfair to take away summer benefits from school support employees, as many workers depend on their packages to make it through the summer months.

ATLANTA -  

Cafeteria workers and bus drivers were among the dozens protesting outside Georgia Department of Labor in opposition of a new rule that cuts their summer unemployment benefits.

School support employees from as far as Savannah gathered downtown, saying they were blindsided by the rule.

"I'm curious to know where I was and others when this passed," said Kelly Thomas, who works for a private company that provides food at Agnes Scott College.

Thomas, like many others, said summer unemployment is her only source of income outside of the school year.

Their labor union, AFL-CIO, senator Vincent Fort and others insisted it's unfair to take away what many workers depend on to make it through the summer months.

"I'm the main bread winner at the house, so I pay the bills," Jerome Irwin, a Savannah bus driver, told Channel 2's Erin Coleman. "My bills will go lacking."

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Brenda Brown, assistant commissioner for employment insurance, said the new rule went into effect Feb. 1 because until now, workers who worked for private contractors at schools and those who worked directly for the district were treated differently.

"Bottom line is we had to make a change in our law so we changed the rule to treat all educational workers equally," she said.

"The private employees were receiving unemployment benefits and the ones who work for public school system were not receiving unemployment insurance benefits," Brown said.

Meanwhile, workers at the protest said they're left with nothing and now scrambling to make ends meet just as schools let out.

The labor union said it will keep fighting to keep their benefits and threaten legal action to overturn the rule.