MAY 17, 2021
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This opinion-editorial appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on May 14th. It also appeared in the Augusta Chronicle, Athens Banner-Herald, and Savannah Morning News.

Opinion: Let’s support Ga.’s workers, not hurt them
By Senator Tonya P. Anderson

On May 10, Gov. Brian Kemp and Labor Commissioner Mark Butler publicly stated their intention to cancel the $300 payment Georgia unemployed workers are receiving from the federal government as a result of the American Recovery Act.

They said their reason for doing so is to push more people back to the workforce. Industries are complaining how the shortage of labor is hurting business. Legislators are saying it is time for people to get back to work.

We, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus -- consisting of 68 Georgia House and Senate members from across our great state -- believe now is the time to support our state’s workers, not hurt them.

The Georgia worker builds, designs, transports, cleans, cooks, educates, organizes, repairs, stocks, protects, serves, and saves lives. The Georgia worker has pride and dignity.

During the pandemic, our workers endured real trauma in trying to provide food, shelter, and clothing for children, parents, and partners. When all hope was lost, federal government offered a lifeline. This is not hyperbole, but fact. Workers again had resources to purchase medicine, pay bills, cover childcare expenses, and stay financially afloat until jobs would become available again.

Now that jobs have opened back up, there is concern Georgia workers do not have an incentive to resume their jobs or seek another. It’s as if the implication is, these men and women are just sitting at home living “high off the hog.” Instead of learning why workers are not returning, our governor and labor commissioner decide to take punitive measures to hurt members of Georgia’s workforce. That is not the type of leadership we need – now or ever.

With this measure, there is no consideration about the childcare challenges many of our workers face, particularly when many school-age children are still at home. There is no discussion about the fear workers may have at reentering the workplace and facing the possibility of contracting a variant of COVID-19.

There is no debate on how we can provide our workers additional training for emerging sectors with high salaries. And there is silence on offering all our workers a living wage of $15 per hour. What we hear from our leaders is blame, false assumptions, and downright disrespect.

It is time to move beyond rhetoric and reactionary measures and reimagine how to develop a 21st-century workforce capable of competing globally. Some effort was made this past legislative session to move our state in that direction, but let’s be clear, Georgia will never progress if our workers are not prioritized.

Government is not in the business of forcing people back to work. Government should be in the business of creating real opportunities for hardworking Georgians to meaningfully contribute to our economy.

Thank you to every worker in Georgia. We see you and value your labor.

Senator Tonya P. Anderson
Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, Chair

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