BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA, October 31, 2022: “No one gets to choose to pay their taxes. We take it from you. Do you want it to be efficient, responsive to you or not? That’s the difference. I have the experience. I want to be your labor commissioner so I can fix that agency for you,” Bruce Thompson, Republican candidate for the office of Labor Commissioner said in his exclusive with NRI Pulse. Thompson shared his plans to address the labor shortage, underemployment, unemployment, and over employment (Moonlighting) issues in this candid interview.
Thompson was elected in 2013 to serve in the Georgia Senate representing District 14 which includes Bartow, Cherokee and Cobb counties. Thompson public service dates back to 1998, when he was chosen to participate in a small business conference in Washington, DC, hosted by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former RNC chairman Michael Steele. From 2008-2010, Thompson served on the Etowah Scholarship Foundation Board as well as the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter Board. The following year, he served on the Cartersville-Bartow Chamber board and as their board chair in 2012. He has served on the Advocates for Children advisory board, Truett McConnell University board, chaired First Baptist Cartersville’s personnel committee twice, and served on the Georgia Chamber board. He currently serves as a board director at First National Community Bank, the Southeast SBA advisory council appointee, and a member of the oversight board for the Georgia World Congress Center. Thompson lives in Cartersville, Georgia with his wife Rebecca (Becky), daughter Faith and son Maxwell. Although credited with many business and political accolades over the years, Bruce’s biggest accomplishments are raising his two children alongside his wife of 24 years, Becky.
“We are friends and even though we ran for the same position, we decided that we would support each other. We don’t want socialism in that agency. Bruce Thompson is the best candidate, and I want to make sure he get’s into the office,” Kartik Bhatt, who facilitated the interview and currently serves of the Board of Examiners for the Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and also a former candidate for the same position said.
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Why are you running for the position of Georgia Labor Commissioner?
I did serve in the Army National Guard and tanks and what you learn in tanks is you have to work as a team because you’re in a confined area. When we were in the General Assembly serving the Senate, we found out real quick that the team wasn’t quite working as a team. We had the Labor Department that was not representing the people of Georgia. And you had not only people that couldn’t get access to the department to file claims, but then we had millions of dollars being paid out. And unfortunately, that’s our taxpayer money and it’s being paid out to people that are illegitimate/illegal claims. And then in the media, you constantly had reports of abuse and fraud and various things. It was time to put a new face with new leadership on there and my friend on the on the call Karthik (Bhatt) and I both stepped up and said we want to try and change this and we want to see how we might use technology to leverage that agency to become more fiscally responsible, meaning we don’t need to add more people until you make sure you’re very efficient with the resources you’re giving. You don’t just throw money away in the Indian community. I understand you have more family members; you make sure you do with what you have and do the very best before you go spending more money. And that’s what we need to do with this agency. Once you modernize it with technology, then we can look at other ways to leverage that agency through. Let’s look at people that want to do better match up maybe they’re missing one class, or maybe they’re have an opportunity to go on to take another job that will increase their opportunity for their family. We can marry those up with that information that technology in university schools and to be able to provide that.
What are your immediate priorities, if elected?
We’re already working on some of those priorities. We’re not trying to be assumptive that we win or arrogant, but certainly, it’s in all of your businesses. You have to plan right and so crisis management means you plan for the crisis. You don’t wait till you’re in it. So we’re planning to take over in January and part of that is meeting with software companies. That are already implementing this technology in other states that I keep using the word modernize. And simply what that means is right now, the Department of Labor up until 2021 was using human capital for every claim that came through that’s unnecessary in today’s world and certainly the innate immune, Indian American community can understand that that a lot of our technology comes from your community. And you understand that you can modernize things and make it very efficient utilizing bots and AI will a 2021. The department implemented some technology, but it’s less than 15% of all the claims. Immediately I want to know how we leverage this technology to do a majority of the claims, which means we’ll have less interaction with humans, unless of course people want it. Most people don’t go and fill out a claim because they want to get on the phone and have a dialogue with someone. They’re filling out a claim and they run into a roadblock block, and they don’t understand and they’re confused. And then they need somebody on the phone. And if we’re using all of our human capital to fill out a simple application, then they’re not available for those that need them. So that’s the very first thing in addition to that I want to reduce the expense of the agency. My opponent on the Democratic side wants to grow the agency from 1000 to 4000 people. Well, the problem with that is you and I as taxpayers, we got to pay for that. I want to go the opposite direction. I want to look at this big building. We have downtown that we own and it’s a Department of Labor, frankly, you own as a taxpayer, but it’s in our it’s on our balance sheet. And I want to see if we’re utilizing that or if it’s if it’s too expensive, if it is how do we maybe deploy some of those jobs to other areas that are struggling to find decent jobs. Now these 50 and $60,000 a year jobs in the city of Atlanta really may become 70 and 80. But if you could put them in some other areas of our state, people would be very happy to have that $50,000 job so we want to go in and do what we all do. I’m sure Karthik does it, your community does it. You go into a business and do due diligence. That’s what we want to do very quickly. Let’s assess what we have. And then we can identify how to fix it. You go and try to fix something you really haven’t assessed yet. You very well make a bigger mess.
How do you plan to address the labor shortage issues?
We need to go in and assess how many people are drawing unemployment right now, that had been offered a job and they’re just not willing to come back. I use the story when I’m speaking in groups that in Montana where I grew up, you have big signs when you go into the national parks – they don’t want you to feed the bears. Not necessarily to protect the people but protect the bears because once you start feeding the bears, they lose the ability to take care of themselves. And then when you do cut it off, they get really aggressive. We’ve done that with the American workforce. We did it by giving out free phones with the Obama administration. Then we gave out free checks, then we increase those free checks with federal government. Then we took back some of those free checks, and they’re still have the state checks. You’ve got to go to people and say listen, these benefits were designed to get people back on their feet, not designed as an entitlement to keep you on your feet. That’s the first thing we need to do. I don’t believe it’s widespread, but I know it’s going on. So that’s the first thing. The next thing we need to do is we need to identify people that are being displaced as companies eliminate some of those jobs. Let’s take the restaurant industry. The pandemic has forced a lot of restaurants to try and modernize with technology. Carl’s Jr, and California are rolling out this company called miso robotics. One robot replaces 10 People in the kitchen, two parties doing the same thing. I personally think in three to five years, you probably will not have many kitchen workers for insurance reasons and so on. Where do they go? Let’s go back to that technology. Let’s marry those people up into other jobs. Now, let’s talk about that’s the underemployment. Now let’s talk about we’re the number one place in the country to do business. So while we had people that, as you said, the great resignation, they’re sitting back, then we have people that are underemployed that really want to do better, but then we have our growth in our economy, leaving us with a gaping hole. One of my biggest concerns right now is as we continue to grow, which I want us to do, and as we’re the number one place to do business, so big companies are coming here. They’re going to have to get their employees from somewhere. they very well may come on the backs of us small businesses, where they cherry pick those employees, then you’re going to put us out of business because we can’t compete. So what we need to be doing is looking for other verticals. How about the people that are retiring from retire returning back from the military, we need to make sure that they understand and the employers understand how to connect these. What about the retirees that are coming here? These retirees because of inflation under Biden, certainly it cost a lot more to live so they’re having to take second jobs. But where do you go if you were a business owner, or if you were a professional, you don’t want to go to Walmart. You don’t want to you don’t want to work at Home Depot. The same time you need a job. So how do we take someone and create an environment for part time people like them that want to use their skills but be paid what they’re worth? Then let’s take the incarcerated I’m not trying to profile let’s just talk about real numbers. Some of the incarcerated that are returning back into the population have skill sets. We can marry them up with some of these job opportunities. And then the last one I would say is build it. I helped coauthor it’s the Apprenticeship bill. It’s taking young people than in other countries they’re doing this for whatever reason our country wasn’t doing this. Let’s get people at 15 years old. They may be in a troubled home and they don’t see a future. We have young people not being exposed to the workforce. Instead, they’re addicted to games and other things and whatever it is can grab their attention. If I can get you at 15 get you involved and how you can really make money, let you know you’re valuable to the workforce. We can then start charting their path into the workforce instead. of something else. I think those four verticals will help fill that gap.
Sometimes employees falsely claim that they were fired to collect unemployment benefits. Is there a way that Labor Department can address the issue and verify their claims?
There should be and there will be right now because they’re not very technologically advanced. They don’t have a way to catch that. And so what if we lived in a world where the employer and I’m not saying we do this, but it’s an idea. Right now the employee could file unemployment benefits, like you said and terminate them. Maybe they didn’t show up for work. They go in, they apply for benefits, and then it’s left up to the employer to really defend themselves. So it’s almost like you’re guilty until proven innocent.
The burden of proof is on the employer then you know, so what if we change that? What if we go to the employer? Now we have, we’d have to put very strict guidelines in the deployer must when there’s a separation, fill out the information in a timely manner. But only the employer can do that because the employer should legally already have all the information. When you hired him, you should have all the information, social security or Visa number and so on. You fill that out. In a technologically advanced Department of Labor, that should be a streamline approach. You fill it out. bots can tell in most cases, whether they qualify or don’t. It gets rejected. It notifies the employer we’re looking for this because it doesn’t match. Maybe it’s a social security number you input wrong or whatever. And it can be easily cleared up right now when the employer fills that out. They have no idea until someone manually gets around to seeing it. It may be three days, five days so on. It may have gotten approved and that wasn’t supposed to be they don’t really know. But what if it was instantaneous. You put it in? It comes back you now have a unique dashboard that shows your employees simultaneously. it contacts the employees and in today’s world, every employee, everyone either has one of these are computer, they have an email or they have a smartphone. So it pings your phone just like you do with State Farm and Allstate or something else. And you have a unique identifier that’s encrypted, just you and so you set up your account. You as an employee log on and you can see oh, it’s been approved, where it’s been denied. Why is it been denied? You click on it, it says you didn’t work enough hours, or you were terminated with just because he didn’t show up for two weeks. Now the law would still allow you to appeal it, but it shifts the burden to the employer to do the right thing and streamlines it makes it easier and it takes the burden off the businesses.
One of the major complaints about Labor department is its unresponsive attitude, that the calls are unanswered. How would you address that issue?
One of the biggest things that makes Karthik and I unique and very different than other people is that we are relational. The Departmental labor is not relational right now. It’s transactional. What I want to do is shift most of the claim process, so it’s streamlined, and then you have people human capital when they need to. So let’s just assume it was me that got laid off. Right now. I’m fighting to try and figure out what’s going on. I need it. And I get no answer. I go to my legislator; they can’t get an answer. What if we turn that around, I made it streamline and so I call in you will always have a live person. Always. That live person was able to say, let me log in. I’m looking at it. Hey, Bruce, I see your claim here. I see that we sent you a notification. I see you access that notification on X, Y and Z at this time. And I see you clicked on it to see why it was denied. And it says that you didn’t qualify. Is that what your question is? Well, I I disagree with that. Okay, so first of all, you do understand it was denied. The process for you now is you have to file an appeal. Would you like to set that up? Yes. Let me fill it out. Okay. On your phone right now. Did you get that? Yes. All right. Now you have access to schedule your appeal. See, we don’t do that right now. Right now. It’s transactional. And I want to make it relational where the face of that agency is very interactive, informative. And positive to get people to work, not to sustain them to stay out of work.
Moonlighting is currently one of the major issues employers in the Technology field are facing. Tech Giants such as IBM, Wipro are not happy with their employees working simultaneously for other companies. If an employer came to you with this issue, how would you address it?
It really kind of boils down to what we mean by Moonlighting. So if you’re employed by, say, IBM, right, we’ll use them as a big company. And you’re in you are employed to do X, Y, and Z code. And you go behind IBM’s back and you take a job that is stripping away that work from them. That’s illegal. But, if, let’s say that Karthik and I wish to hire that programmer that has time to develop something for him and I on a business on the side. He’s using his skills, but it’s not an interruption of business over here. So sometimes moonlighting is viewed as an overarching in in our country and specifically in our state. We don’t permit you to be able to work secondary jobs. But I recommend to every employer, everyone, whether it’s a gas station to a programming company, when you hire someone, make sure you have a work, contract with that employee. You spell out what your expectations are. And that’s what I recommend people to do is understand what’s reasonable, and just have them sign it and if they don’t want to sign it, you probably don’t have a loyal employee that’s willing to come to work.
Would you leverage your state senate position to help the labor department, if yes, how?
That’s a great question. Relationships are key. You can be the smart person in the room. But if you can’t develop a relationship, it’s hard to get things done. And the Department of Labor lost its way. They lost it with Governor Deal. They lost it with Governor Kemp. They lost it with the House and the Senate. In the Senate, I have very good relationships last night. We had a large event up here in Canton area we hosted I think there was close to 500 people and raised a significant amount of money $250,000 for Governor camp, I introduced him, we have a great relationship and I have that relationship all over the state with other legislators. So executive branch relationship, House and Senate relationships already there. So when people say, Well, how are you going to fix these relationships? They’re not broken. I don’t. I just need to build on their thing that we do need to do is build on a relationship with the people that’s going to be a cultural shift to help everyone inside the agency understand. We exist to serve the people outside. We don’t exist to serve ourselves or have them serve us. And so that’s one of the things the other thing is because I have business background, I know how to streamline things. I have bought businesses. I have started businesses, some of the businesses we bought, we had to dismantle and reassemble and put them back together. That’s really what’s going to have to happen this agency. We’re going to have to perform some surgery while the person is still alive. I have the experience to do that. We can hire good people around us to do it. We expect within six months, that there’ll be a very good PR internally and externally, and then we just keep building on that. Preparing for what everyone says is an impending recession.
In the coming years, what do you see as the biggest opportunities for Georgia workers? Where are the jobs going to be, and how do workers get ready for them?
So I think we all can agree AI is coming. It’s not going away. Machine learning is very, very important. You’re seeing you’ve seen it in manufacturing in the past, and you’re seeing manufacturing continue. You’ve got the Hyundai plant that’s coming. You got Rivian plant, you add the two of them together, it’s 12,000 jobs, just in that and you think about all of the other positions around that. When you think about transportation, there is going to have to be a lot of expediting of goods, transit transporting those goods. It’s some of that is not just manual labor, we think of transporting goods is running a forklift. In today’s world, you’re automating some of this, right? In Europe, they have tractor trailers, 18 wheelers that are autonomous. So I think what we need to be teaching young people I mean, I have a daughter that’s 22 and a son, that’s 17. They grew up with this. So why not leverage that in the classroom? To them teach them how to search, to use and code at 14 and 15. years old. So, let’s equip this person to be able to program and understand how to make sure the robots are doing what they’re supposed to do. In all of those verticals, you’re going to need a lot more of this and not as much of this. That also is it’s to say that not everybody is equipped for that. You take the trades, plumbing, electrical carpentry mechanics, there is a massive shortage of those people. And so, again, we did away with shop class back in back in the day they did away with it. You’re going to have to reintroduce this at a young age to help someone say, Okay, if their interests are not over here, if their interests are here, let’s teach them to be a welder or a mechanic or carpentry or plumbing or electrical. So the day they graduate high school, they can become employable. They may not be making 100 grand but they can come out make it 60 And that company will pick them up, put a year of apprenticeship and now they’re on track to be able to take care of the families. We have to think differently than we did in the past. We used to just rely on the family. The family unit isn’t what it once was. So society’s going to have to pick that up.
Why should the people of Georgia vote for you?
I think if you were to watch the debate, I think it highlights the big difference between myself and my opponent. We all agree the Department of Labor needs radical change okay. So my question is what kind of change? Do you want a businessman that knows how to take a business make it very streamlined, very responsive to people and understands the relationship between the customer and the person providing it? In this case the Department of Labor and the customer is all of the general public? Or do you want what my opponent said, and that is he wants to grow that agency 400% with human capital, which means raising taxes and put down on the backs of people, which means it’s not going to be very efficient. No one gets to choose to pay their taxes. We take it from you. Do you want it to be efficient, responsive to you or not? That’s the difference. I have the experience. I want to be your labor commissioner so I can fix that agency for you.