Moral Monday Movement Takes on Anti-worker Legislation
(APN) ATLANTA — More than one hundred activists, labor leaders, workers, and community advocates turned out in frigid temperatures on March 04, 2014 at the Georgia State Capitol as part of the Moral Monday movement in a rally to “stand up, fight back” for worker’s rights.
The group advocated against anti-worker bills that had been working their way through the Legislature, and emphasized the effects of income inequality on Atlanta’s workers.
“The Georgia labor movement is made up of 204,000 union workers and their families. We’re proud to be part of this Moral Monday initiative in the state of Georgia,” Charlie Flemming, President of the Georgia American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO) said. “Moral Monday is raising important and often uncomfortable questions about education, disparity, working rights, and economic justice that not only affect Georgians, but our entire nation.”
This was the eighth Moral Monday demonstration in Georgia. The Moral Monday movement aims for progressive policy change and has demonstrated around Medicaid expansion, repealing Georgia’s Stand Your Ground legislation, and education reform, among other issues, as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News.
Legislators and community organizations spoke out against HB 714, which would cut unemployment benefits for certain workers in Georgia’s voluntary pre-Kindergarten program.
Currently, under OCGA 34-8-196, educational workers cannot collect unemployment benefits for periods during which the school is closed, such as summer and holiday breaks, when it is expected they will return to work at the end of the break. For educational workers other than teachers, researchers, and administrators, who are not re-hired, they will be eligible for retroactive benefits for the break period.
HB 714 would extend this provision to cover all Pre-K workers, and would provide retroactive benefits for those workers not re-hired.
The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming). It currently sits in the State Senate, where it has been referred to the Insurance and Labor Committee.
“We’ve got to fight against those folks who say bus drivers are heroes one day, and then the next day, they take away their unemployment benefits,” State Sen. Vincent Fort (D- Atlanta) said at the rally.
“Some of those drivers could have went home when the snow storm came but they said, ‘No, were going to say with these babies because these babies are our babies,’” Sen. Fort said, referring to the recent weather emergencies in Georgia commonly known as Snowpocalypse II and Snowjam.
State Reps. “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta) and Dewey McClain (D-Lawrenceville), and Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) also lended their voices in opposition to HB 714.
“Unemployment benefits are at risk from the right-wing politicians in the State House. They want to cut those benefits because employers are gaming the system, but they’re going after employee,” Neil Sardana, organizer with Jobs with Justice Atlanta, said.
“I just wanted to get up and say that if we cut unemployment, people like me would not be able to survive. I would not be able to pay my rent, I would not be able to pay my heat, I would not be able to pay my light bill. So I’m just trying to figure out what I should I do. I’m glad all you people out here are fighting for me and my fellow employees and I’d like to thank you very much,” Ricky Irvey, Aramark Cook at Oglethorpe University and Member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Workers United, said.
Low-wage workers also spoke in favor of raising the minimum wage and reducing income inequality.
Atlanta ranks number one in income inequality among the 50 largest U.S. cities, according to the Brookings Institute.
“We don’t want a hand out, we just need a hand,” Connie Ogletree, a McDonalds worker from Dunwoody, said. “We voted for them to have their nice, warm, cushy jobs [in the Legislature] and they’re making all the laws that affect us directly. We need to stand together and vote out the ones that don’t want to do what we need done and vote in the ones that do what needs to be done.”
Another issue raised at the rally was the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, where employers often make the same demands as if workers are regular employees but can underpay them, deny benefits, and violate other employment rights.
Legislation dealing with misclassification–SB 401 and 402, introduced by State Sens. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) and Henson, respectively–did not even come up for Senate Committee vote this year.
Moral Monday activists plan to be back at the Capitol to speak out about voting rights on Monday, March 10.