Democrats criticize Labor Department’s performance while vying to lead agency

The Georgia Department of Labor struggled to handle an avalanche of claims set off by the coronavirus pandemic, and state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler faced heavy criticism before announcing he would not seek reelection this year.

Combined ShapeCaption
The Georgia Department of Labor struggled to handle an avalanche of claims set off by the coronavirus pandemic, and state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler faced heavy criticism before announcing he would not seek reelection this year.

During a 30-minute debate Monday evening, the two Democratic candidates for Georgia labor commissioner played to the strengths of their contrasting resumés: working mother and entrepreneur versus attorney and state legislator.

But they agreed that the state Department of Labor itself needs work.

William Boddie, currently a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, faced off with activist and entrepreneur Nicole Horn, each vying for the support of voters in the primary runoff that will take place June 21.

During the event, arranged by the Atlanta Press Club, the two answered questions from journalists Dave Williams and Nicole Carr as well as from each other. While avoiding direct attacks on each other, they pounded away at the performance of the Labor Department during the coronavirus pandemic with somewhat contrasting approaches.

The department, which struggled to handle an avalanche of claims set off by the pandemic, has still not caught up, and a task force is needed to examine each of the thousands still outstanding, Boddie said.

“The people want accountability from the Department of Labor, they want trust,” he said. “You have to regain that.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has sued the department, alleging that many Georgians’ claims have been wrongly delayed. Boddie said he would join in that suit against the department that he wants to lead.

Horn said the department’s workers need better pay but should also be given slicker, better technology that can more efficiently handle the claims for jobless benefits.

“It’s an Atari system,” she said of the department’s technology. “About 4% of people’s calls to the Department of Labor are answered. That is completely unacceptable.”

The dilemma of working parents drew suggestions from each, with both pledging to expand the historical role of the department.

The lack of adequate and affordable child care has kept thousands of parents out of the labor force, Horn said. “A study showed that $1.7 billion has been left on the table,” she said. “I am going to focus on child care.”

Boddie said he has pushed for hybrid work and advocated parental leave for employees of the state and teachers. “I’d like to expand that to all Georgians,” he said.

Both Boddie and Horn said they support the idea of making many more gig workers eligible for state unemployment benefits.

“We need to look at how we classify gig workers,” Boddie said.

“I would like to make sure Georgia leads the way in providing benefits to gig workers,” Horn said.

The labor commissioner’s position is currently held by Republican Mark Butler, who said earlier this year that he would not seek reelection. Butler was harshly criticized by many of those who hoped to replace him, including fellow Republican Bruce Thompson, a member of the Georgia State Senate who won the Republican primary with about 60% of the vote, far outpacing Mike Coan, whom Butler had endorsed.

In Georgia, candidates need to hit 50%-plus-one to secure their party’s nomination in the primary. Among the Democrats, Boddie and Horn finished first and second, both with less than one-third of the vote.

Combined ShapeCaption
Nicole Horn, a mother and entrepreneur running for the Democratic nomination for state labor commissioner, said during a debate Monday that the lack of adequate and affordable child care has kept thousands of parents out of the labor force. “A study showed that $1.7 billion has been left on the table,” she said. “I am going to focus on child care.”

Credit: cus

Nicole Horn, a mother and entrepreneur running for the Democratic nomination for state labor commissioner, said during a debate Monday that the lack of adequate and affordable child care has kept thousands of parents out of the labor force. “A study showed that $1.7 billion has been left on the table,” she said. “I am going to focus on child care.”

Credit: cus

Combined ShapeCaption
Nicole Horn, a mother and entrepreneur running for the Democratic nomination for state labor commissioner, said during a debate Monday that the lack of adequate and affordable child care has kept thousands of parents out of the labor force. “A study showed that $1.7 billion has been left on the table,” she said. “I am going to focus on child care.”

Credit: cus

Credit: cus

Combined ShapeCaption
The state Department of Labor still has not caught up on the flood of claims that poured in during the coronavirus pandemic. "The people want accountability from the Department of Labor, they want that trust," state Rep. William Boddie, a Democrat running for labor commissioner, said during a debate Monday. "You have to regain that."

Credit: cust

The state Department of Labor still has not caught up on the flood of claims that poured in during the coronavirus pandemic. "The people want accountability from the Department of Labor, they want that trust," state Rep. William Boddie, a Democrat running for labor commissioner, said during a debate Monday. "You have to regain that."

Credit: cust

Combined ShapeCaption
The state Department of Labor still has not caught up on the flood of claims that poured in during the coronavirus pandemic. "The people want accountability from the Department of Labor, they want that trust," state Rep. William Boddie, a Democrat running for labor commissioner, said during a debate Monday. "You have to regain that."

Credit: cust

Credit: cust