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Labor commissioner speaks in Midway
Summit focuses on labor issues, job laws
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Georgia Department of Labor Hinesville office employment marketing representative P.J. Schneider gets some help selecting door-prize winners at the end of an employer summit Tuesday in Midway. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told area employers Tuesday the Department of Labor’s mission is to put people back to work and make clear to businesses what is expected of them under the law so they can be successful.
Butler and other labor experts offered human-resource professionals and business people advice on unemployment insurance and updated par-
ticipants on labor issues during a Georgia Business and Employer Summit at the Coastal Electric Membership Cooperative in Midway. The GDOL partnered with the State Employer Committee to offer the crash course in management challenges. Cherry Rizer, a GDOL employment and training consultant; Jonathan Martin, an employment-law expert; and Don Betts of Georgia Tech also spoke at the event.
Attendees were briefed on what constitutes firing for cause and informed about the appeals process regarding unemployment claims. These laws are meant to protect both employee and employer, according to the DOL.
 “You can never hear too many times about all the regulations. It’s always changing,” said Francis Moody, human-resource manager with GeoVista in Hinesville. Moody said she learned more about proper procedures for separation notices and disciplinary action.
“It has been very helpful,” said Lara Hoium, a human-resource manager with Nurse Rosie Products based in Savannah. Nurse Rosie distributes vital-sign monitoring equipment to long-term-care facilities and nursing homes.
Hoium said she needed more information about the new health-care law, especially as it applies to small businesses. Nurse Rosie Products employs about 40 workers, according to Hoium.
Butler said the GDOL must inform employers about how these changes in government regulations, like the Affordable Care Act, will affect them.
“I listen to a lot of employers who say they are confused by it,” Butler said. “One-size-fits-all laws don’t work for everyone.”
The commissioner said some small-business owners worry they cannot afford to provide health insurance to their employees and are taking a “wait-and-see” attitude on growing their companies.
One North Georgia plant owner told Butler he turned down bigger contracts so he wouldn’t have to hire more people. Under the new health-care law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide health coverage or face fines.
The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and then signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Supreme Court upheld the health-care law June 28, 2012.
Butler said he is striving to change the department of labor’s philosophy and the public’s perception of the DOL. He said he wants his department to be called the employment office, not the unemployment office. Butler added there are signs the job market is improving.
“The private sector gained 16,000 jobs last month,” he said. This was the highest spike in job growth for that (summer) time period since 1996, when Georgia hosted the Olympics, the commissioner said. However, about 4,000 federally-funded defense jobs were lost due to sequestration, according to the labor commissioner.
Georgia had an 8.8 percent unemployment rate in July, slightly higher than the national rate of 7.4 percent, according to the department of labor’s website. In June, the Coastal Georgia region — which includes Liberty, Bryan, Long, Bulloch, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Camden, McIntosh and Screven counties — tallied a 9.5 percent unemployment rate. The coastal region’s June unemployment rate was not seasonally adjusted.
Butler’s vision is to entice more businesses and manufacturers to Georgia while encouraging existing businesses to grow by offering a workforce skilled in both cutting-edge technology and “soft skills.” “Soft skills” pertain to workplace etiquette and professional behavior, such as being on time, working well with others and taking pride in work, he said.
“Sixty-nine percent of all first-time hires lose their jobs due to a lack of soft skills,” Butler said.
To help remedy the skill gap, the department of labor initiated the Georgia Best program 18 months ago in 20 public high schools. Last year, more than 8,500 students were in the program, and 59 percent of them certified, Butler said.
The commissioner said students are “graded” by their teachers in the same way an employer would evaluate a worker’s job performance.
Georgia Best now is offered in more than 180 schools across the state, according to Butler. The program will be offered in middle schools starting in January 2014.
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