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Testimony from truckers, stage hands spurs senators to support study

ATLANTA — A truck driver’s tearful plea and other personal stories from Savannah truckers and Atlanta stagehands prompted a Senate committee to vote unanimously Wednesday to study whether some companies are taking advantage of workers by illegally classifying them as independent contractors.

“Our generation is going to suffer if we don’t get this fixed very soon,” said trucker Carol Cauley, choking back sobs.

The committee approved Senate Resolution 11 by Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, which creates a panel to study worker classification and recommend legislation next year.

Lawmakers usually have their minds made up in advance on most legislation, but members of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on Wednesday said the personal testimony altered their views.

“I want to say to the folks who testified: You might wonder about whether driving all this way to the Capitol makes a difference,” said Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. “It’s made a difference for me to hear your stories. I’m shocked and troubled by what you have communicated to us today.”

Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, the highest-elected senator, has a long history of conservatism and support for business, but he was also troubled by what he heard.

“I’m persuaded this failure to enforce existing laws is unfair. It’s unfair to workers who are working very hard to support themselves and their families, and it’s unfair to businesses who obey the law and are then put at a disadvantage,” said Shafer, R-Duluth. “I’d like to see this addressed in a thoughtful, deliberative and forceful manner.”

Truckers told the committee they have no workers’ compensation or other benefits because they are classified as independent contractors rather than employees with the various freight-hauling companies that serve the port of Savannah.

“We have just given these people so much freedom that they have just abused us,” said John Jackson, who has been driving for 24 years.

Lewis Grant testified how excited he was 17 years ago when he first considered himself an “owner-operator” in the trucking industry and how he relished the independence he thought that included. But the orders from the companies killed that dream, he said.

“I come in when they tell me to come in. I leave when they tell me

to leave. I do what they tell me to do,” he said. “I began to realize I’m not as independent as I thought.”

Trucker Michael Alldyne said: “If they are going to treat us as employees, they need to pay us as employees.”

Stagehand Brian Hill noted that a member of his industry fell recently while installing rigging for the Super Bowl and will have no insurance to help pay his bills.

 

Photo 1: John Jackson, a truck driver hauling freight from the Port of Savannah, told a Senate committee Wednesday that drivers feel the companies they drive for are taking advantage of them by classifying them as independent contractors instead of employees.  In the pink necktie, Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, looks on during testimony about a resolution he introduced for the Senate to study the issue. MORRIS NEWS SERVICE/Walter Jones

Photo 2: Testimony Wednesday from truck drivers like Lewis Grant of Savannah and others changed the minds of Republicans on the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee and convinced them to conduct a formal study of the issue of worker classification during this summer. Looking on, right, is Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, who sponsored the resolution establishing a temporary committee to conduct the research. MORRIS NEWS SERVICE/Walter Jones

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