Joining less than a handful of other states, California lawmakers are considering giving union strikers unemployment compensation.
A bill moving through the California Assembly would provide unemployment compensation to employees who go out on strike.
Assembly Bill 1066 “would allow workers to collect unemployment benefits from weeks four through 26 of a prolonged strike,” reports the Sacramento Bee. “Unemployed workers can earn from $40 to $450 per week in unemployment benefits in California.”
The bill is authored by San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzales, a former community organizer, activist and lawyer who, before being elected into the State Assembly, became secretary-treasurer and CEO of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Gonzales is also currently running for Secretary of State in California.
Gonzalez said the bill could help level the playing field in standoffs between striking workers and employers that are often better prepared for long labor disputes, told the Sacramento Bee.
“You really realize the longer the strike goes, the more leverage the employer has,” Gonzalez said. “Workers sometimes have to agree to cuts to health care, to their retirement, just to insure they can put food on the table.”
In 2018 a record 485K workers were caught in a labor dispute, leaving them financially insecure in a strike or lockout (@BLS_gov). Today the Assembly PASSED #AB1066 to provide a basic safety net for workers to stand up for fair treatment on the job. It now heads to the #CASenate. pic.twitter.com/C4KG1cm27s
— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaAD80) May 23, 2019
If enacted, the bill “would significantly increase costs on employers engaged in a trade dispute by allowing employees on strike to receive unemployment benefits if the strike lasts more than four weeks, incentivizing strikes and transforming unemployment insurance into a political tool in trade disputes,” according to the California Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the bill.
If California’s AB 1066 does pass, it would make California one in less than a handful of other states that provides unemployment compensation to strikers.
In New York, for example, strikers are required to be on strike for seven weeks before they are eligible. However, the New York legislature is considering lowering that to one week.
Last year, New Jersey’s governor signed a bill making union strikers eligible for unemployment benefits after only 30 days.
“Unemployment insurance programs are meant to help people who become jobless through no fault of their own,” the Wall Street Journal notes.
“Many unions provide members with strike benefits to make up for lost wages, and the costs can be high….Letting strikers collect unemployment benefits would relieve unions of much of those [strike] costs, freeing money up for other purposes—such as campaign contributions.”
However, that is likely the point.