When workers go on strike, they do not qualify for unemployment benefits. However, New Jersey and New York are the exceptions. More states are working on legislation to change their policies for striking workers.
The movement to provide unemployment to workers who choose to protest working conditions or fail to reach a contract agreement with management. The outcry has continued to grow amid the summer of strikes.
According to the Cornell ILR School Labor Action Tracker data, in the first nine months of 2023, over 200 strikes affecting about 320,000 workers have occurred in the United States.
By comparison, over the same period in 2021, 116 walkouts affected 27,000 workers.
CNBC reported: “Workers activism rose during the coronavirus pandemic, and a tight labor market has given employees more power to negotiate.”
The Century Foundation Senior Fellow Michele Evermore reminded reporters that unemployment benefits are public.
These funds “should be there for workers when their workplace is so unsatisfactory that they take the extraordinary step to go on strike. They need support just like any other worker,” declared Evermore.
Opponents of offering striking workers financial assistance place employers at a disadvantage during negotiations. Additionally, workers trusting that they can get unemployment benefits encourages them to strike.
Under the current law, workers must prove they are jobless through no fault of their own to claim benefits.
According to Jacobin, “Such logic is titled: no matter what an employer does to provoke a strike, workers are treated as if they chose to forgo their income.”
Furthermore, these workers already earned unemployment benefits. Employers paid into the fund.
Jacobin reported that these employers know their workers could become homeless, leaving charities to struggle to meet striking workers’ needs. “It is as wrongheaded as is callous.”
State Activity Concerning Unemployment Benefits
Californian Legislators passed Senate Bill 799, which would allow striking workers to claim unemployment benefits after two weeks on the picket line.
Labor organizers supporting SB799 said, “The entertainment industry employers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), have made it clear that they are willing to exploit workers’ financial precarity in order to break the strike.”
However, despite nearly 60,000 (SAG-AFTRA) Hollywood actors’ union members on the picket line since July 14, 2023, Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the legislation.
Recently, the UAW began its strike against the Big 3 automobile manufacturers. According to ABC News, “Tens of thousands of striking employees are receiving $500 a week in substitute pay from the United Auto Workers — roughly half of their previous income.”
ABC News spoke with UAW members who said they would need to rely on savings or family support within weeks.
Meanwhile, legislation is working its way through the Massachusetts Legislature. The bill would offer unemployment benefits for workers striking over a labor dispute after 30 days.
Connecticut lawmakers recently pushed legislation to provide jobless benefits for striking workers. According to CNBC, “They have so far been unsuccessful.
Connecticut State Senator Rob Sampson (R-Dist 16) argued against the bill. “To me, it’s an absurd notion on its face. People are voluntarily walking off the job.”
Evermore told CNBC that many workers who go on strike don’t feel they [have another] choice.”
“Once your shop elects to strike, if you individually decide to break that strike line, you are undermining your self-interest and the interests of your whole union,” she added.
“This is not putting a thumb on the scale in negotiations,” Evermore continued. “It is totally in keeping with the goals of unemployment [benefits]: to keep people who are out of work from desperation.”
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
CNBC: These 2 states offer unemployment benefits to workers on strike; By Annie Nova
Fortune: As Hollywood actors’ strike enters 12th week, Gavin Newsom just spiked a bill to give unemployment benefits to striking workers; By Adam Beam
Jacobin: Striking Workers Should Be Eligible for Unemployment Insurance; By Alex N. Press
ABC News: ‘Stressful’: Striking autoworkers living on $500 a week from UAW; By Max Zahn
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