Labor to Focus on Contractors, Sick Leave in Legislature this Year
Mayor of Clarkston Ted Terry, who also serves as the State Campaign Director of Georgia chapter of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), spoke with Atlanta Progressive news about several key areas he expects to see gain traction this year.
“The low-income jobs have grown a lot in the past ten years, the high-income jobs have also grown, but it’s the middle income jobs that have actually shrunk,” Terry said, citing recent data that came out of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s annual Policy Conference.
CONCERN ABOUT POSSIBLE PROPOSAL FOR MERIT PAY FOR TEACHERS
“There is concern about the education reform commission, the merit pay for teachers as being part of the funding formula is a big concern,” Terry said, explaining that the merit pay proposal could make it more difficult for low performing schools to attract and retain quality teachers.
“There are a lot of good things about [the recommendations of the education reform commission] but, like I said, the merit pay and austerity cuts are still in there. So that’s something that we’d like to try to fix,” Terry said.
Education reform is expected to be a hot topic, following on the heels of last year’s controversial Opportunity School Districts legislation.
The Macon Telegraph newspaper quotes House Speaker David Ralston (R – Blue Ridge) as recently saying, “I heard concerns about how do you measure merit pay, what kind of metric are you going to use. I can assure those teachers… that what I heard will stay with me throughout this session.”
It is not clear yet which specific recommendations both Gov. Nathan Deal and the Legislature will ultimately take up, and any move to institute a merit pay system can expect to face resistance from the likes of the AFL-CIO as well as education groups.
Bipartisan support is growing for issues related to employee misclassification, where workers are incorrectly labeled as independent contractors instead of employees.
Businesses benefit from this practice because they no longer have to pay unemployment and other taxes on workers, and can save up to thirty percent on labor costs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Last year, the Senate Insurance and Labor committee created an all-Republican subcommittee to hear testimony about the pervasive misclassification issues, particularly in the trucking industry.
“We’re going to keep working with Sen. [Josh] Mckoon on this worker misclassification issue. You know, Senator [David] Shafer and Senator [Charlie] Bethel both said publicly during the hearing last session that they were really appalled by the treatment of these truck drivers down in Savannah,” Terry said.
Worker mis-classification costs the state million of dollars in lost tax revenue every year.
While there are no specific figures for Georgia yet, a study in Illinois showed losses of income tax revenue amounting to 125 million dollars, while reports from North Carolina estimate losses of 467 million in state and federal taxes from employee misclassification in the construction industry alone.
HIGHER LOCAL MINIMUM WAGES
Minimum wage is also expected to be an issue during 2016. The AFL-CIO and their partners are hoping to address this issue from a new angle – by allowing local municipalities to set their own minimum wages.
Previously, the City of Atlanta passed a living wage ordinance under Mayor Shirley Franklin. However, it was preempted by the State of Georgia.
“There is going to be a bigger push on local control on the minimum wage issue… What if we just allow local municipalities and counties to set their own minimum wage, because obviously the cost of living in Atlanta or Savannah is different than Early County or down in Albany, Georgia,” Terry said.
“I think we are going to see a bill looking at repealing the preemption that the State Legislature passed… back when Atlanta was considering a living wage ordinance,” Terry said.
The law in question, passed during the 2003-2004 Legislative Session, gives the State the authority to preempt local wage and benefit ordinances, claiming:
“Local variations in mandated wage rates and employment benefits threaten many businesses with a loss of employees to areas which require higher mandated wage rates and employment benefits, threaten many other businesses with the loss of patrons to areas which allow lower mandated wage rates and employment benefits, and are therefore detrimental to the business environment of the state and to the citizens, businesses, and governments of the various political subdivisions as well as local labor markets.”
Working on increasing the minimum wage “is still a top priority for the union,” Terry said.
However, given the track record these types of bills have faced under the Gold Dome over the last ten years, the legislation is unlikely to pass, let alone get out of committee.
Current legislation includes HB 8 and HB 272 in the House, and SB 15 in the Senate. All three bills address increasing the minimum wage – to either $10.10 an hour or $15 an hour – and address related employment issues, such as exemptions for tipped employees. However, all three bills are sitting in committee and have not yet had any hearings.
FAMILY CARE ACT
Lastly, the Family Care Act is a bi-partisan effort allowing workers to use earned sick time for themselves as well as to care for family members. It does not mandate any kind of paid sick leave, but simply allows workers to use earned sick leave to care for someone other than themselves.
Two versions of the bill currently exist–HB 92 in the House and SB 242 Senate–and both have Republican sponsors.
Terry says they will be “working with our friends at 9to5 on the legislation,” although he is “not sure about the prospects right now.”
9to5 is an organization focused on advocacy and skill building for working women, they were unable to be reached for comment for this article.
“One thing that we are talking about right now is finding ways for people to come to the Capitol more often… The Representatives, at the end of the day, are paid to represent the people of their district,” Terry said.
“What you hear often from individual legislators is ‘well we don’t want to hear from you, the lobbyist, we want to hear from our constituents,’” Terry said.
The Session began on Monday, January 11, 2016, and wrapped up its first week on Friday, January 15.