On labor issues, lawmakers were a little more sympathetic

[private]Labor unions typically don’t get a very warm welcome from a General Assembly in which conservative Republicans hold a substantial majority of the seats.

In recent years, efforts by Democratic lawmakers to advance such issues as an increase in the state’s minimum wage have gone nowhere. At the same time, bills were passed that reinforced Georgia’s status as a right-to-work state, and lawmakers seriously considered a measure that would have prohibited picketing.

In the latest session, however, the chilly attitude towards unions seems to have thawed a little.

“There really wasn’t any major anti-union effort this year,” said Ted Terry, the mayor of Clarkston who’s a lobbyist for the Georgia AFL-CIO in his day job.

“All in all, it wasn’t a year of attacks on working folks, for which I’m thankful,” said Charlie Flemming, president of the Georgia AFL-CIO.

One issue where organized labor made some headway is the practice of some businesses to misclassify their workers as “independent contractors,” a move that allows them to avoid payroll taxes and worker’s compensation.

Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) introduced a resolution (SR 11) that would have created a Senate study committee to delve into the misclassification issue.

“It’s not about labor or workers, it’s about tax fraud,” Jackson said. “People here understand tax fraud.”

Jackson’s resolution received a sympathetic hearing in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee chaired by Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton).

“The committee believes — and I believe — that people should be treated equitably,” Bethel said. “I don’t think that’s a Democratic issue or a Republican issue.”

“The key with the issue of worker misclassification is, it’s not a union issue – it’s an equity issue,” Terry said.

“These businesses that don’t follow the rules, they’re not paying their workers fairly and they’re not paying their payroll taxes,” Terry said. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that go uncollected.”

SR 11 did not go to the Senate floor for a vote, but Bethel said he could still appoint a study committee because of his position as a committee chairman.

“I intend to appoint a subcommittee to evaluate this topic,” he said Monday.

Other bills affecting Georgia’s workers included:

SB 88, which was introduced by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), will allow employers to pay wages by crediting the amount to a payroll debit card. It passed both chambers and proceeded to the governor’s desk.

HB 348, sponsored by Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella), will create a State Workforce Development Board as part of the Department of Economic Development. It passed in both chambers.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: AFL-CIO , Charlie Bethel , Charlie Flemming , employee misclassification , labor issues , Lester Jackson , Ted Terry