Labor Commissioner Mark Butler Spurns Legislators

This week, Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) Commissioner Mark Butler cancelled his call with the Senate Democratic Caucus, saying:

“Due to threats to protest at the Commissioner’s personal residence by members of the Democratic Caucus and the recent protests that almost started a riot at a GDOL location, we will be cancelling the meeting scheduled for August 5, 2020 at 2 p.m.”

If you had been at the GDOL location like I was, you might have been surprised to see the approximately 50 people attending the press conference described as “protests that almost started a riot,” and no legislators have threatened Butler’s residence.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner has kept the GDOL offices closed to the public since March, and tens of thousands of unemployment claims have yet to be processed. Right next door, the Department of Drivers Services is fully open and serving the public.

I attended the Democratic Caucus-organized press conference in Gwinnett last Wednesday along with constituent Douglas Weinstein and his college-aged son, Jack. A few weeks ago, Douglas called me because he was locked out of his account due to a simple PIN issue. He called the GDOL repeatedly and couldn’t reach anyone to help. Without his unemployment benefits, he didn’t have the gas money he needed to travel to Tennessee to pick up Jack from school. Instead of getting help from GDOL, he found someone with the technical skills to find his PIN in his computer’s cache so he could access his account.

The press conference I went to last week was like many others being organized by Democrats in Georgia – peaceful and constructive. Attendees share the stress of mounting debt and the fear of pending evictions. Legislators explain how they are working hard to try to fix this mess. And the local press spreads the word.

Yet Commissioner Butler calls these rallies “a threat.”

Commissioner Butler doesn’t understand how important it is to our democracy that Georgia’s citizens are heard. He also misunderstands exactly how he is responsible when he allows thousands of phone calls from Georgia citizens to go unanswered. GDOL being overwhelmed is understandable. Being inaccessible is unconscionable.

But it’s difficult to make Commissioner Butler comprehend these issues when he cancels our conference call.

Later in the week, he released another statement to WSB-TV:

“We here at the Georgia Department of Labor are very disappointed in the actions of certain members of the Georgia State Legislature. … we implemented a process for these elected officials to forward information to our office regarding older claims.”

It isn’t working.

I worked directly with the GDOL to design the process, and I have forwarded more than one hundred claimants’ problems to the GDOL myself.

Unfortunately, despite my efforts, many of the same people are calling me back, telling me no one from GDOL ever contacted them. What other choice do I have to make the GDOL pay attention but to stand with my constituents and amplify their voices through the press?

For example, my office has been communicating with a homeless veteran for about five weeks, and we turned in his name and phone number to the GDOL. He still has no benefits, and he told me he had only $2.78 left.

But Commissioner Butler would rather duck and cover than help people like this veteran who served his country.

I called the GDOL legislative liaison and begged for someone to call this man. She said they would, but the veteran tells me his phone has not rung yet. He’s scared to even take a shower for fear he’ll miss the call.

A kind constituent heard the veteran’s story and sent him enough cash to buy food for several more weeks.

Many of you reached out to me when I shared a similar story about a single mom who only had $10 left. I followed up with her, and her benefits did finally come through, so she’s okay.

The GDOL may have abandoned Georgians in need, but we don’t have to. If you are in a position to offer a random act of kindness, like sharing some money, or delivering some meals, please fill out this form (Click here to sign up) and let us know. We will keep a log of “random act of kindness” volunteers. When my administrative assistant, Keridan Ogletree, talks to people in crisis, she’ll let me know if there’s some way you can help.

Never has it been more clear that our leadership either is incapable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations to our people during this extraordinary crisis. Georgia deserves better.

P.S. Even during these trying times, I still need to fund my re-election campaign. The Governor has threatened to call another Special Session of the legislature. If he does, the law says I can’t fund raise while in session. If you can send a contribution now, it will help hold this seat, and I can keep up the “good and necessary trouble.” My campaign relies heavily on small contributions to diminish the power of special interests. If you haven’t given yet, please consider it now! Online contributions make it easy, and every amount helps. Please give what you are able. I promise I will continue to “disappoint” our Commissioner of Labor!