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Vetoed Bill for Unemployment Benefits for Striking Workers Arrives in Washington With Renewed Energy

October 28, 2023 | Employment Law

Last month SB799, Unemployment insurance: trade disputes: eligibility for benefits, was vetoed in the Governor’s office. “Now is not the time to increase costs or incur this sizable debt,” Newsom stated. It didn’t take long for Californians to take their ideals to Washington. Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff introduced legislation that would provide unemployment benefits to all striking workers, nationwide. With him stood Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Donald Norcross of New Jersey, the only two states with employees who benefit from weekly unemployment pay while striking.


The Empowering Striking Workers Act of 2023 would allow striking workers to collect unemployment after two weeks on the picket line or on the date an employer locks them out or hires permanent replacement workers. In a statement, Schiff said, “The corporate executives who are sitting on one side of the negotiating table get paid during a strike, and workers should too, otherwise management can simply wait them out.”


From the perspective of business owners, SB799 was fundamentally flawed because striking workers in most states are not entitled to unemployment compensation, under federal law. State UI law must operate in conformity and compliance with federal law, which specifically provides that unemployment compensation may only be paid to individuals who are not able to work, available to work, and actively seeking work. 


“Strikes are a necessary collective bargaining tool for workers to secure fair wages and working conditions. Unfortunately, many low-income and hourly workers are often forced to choose between earning a paycheck and organizing for better working conditions. The Empowering Striking Works Act addresses this difficult choice, ensuring workers are eligible for unemployment assistance while on strike. This bill is vital to ensuring that the most vulnerable workers can collectively act without worrying about putting food on the table,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.


“Going on strike is a last resort and a difficult and serious decision for workers. When employers have refused a fair contract or to even negotiate, workers are left with few choices. We’ve seen firsthand the power of collective action this year, with workers across America securing better contracts and working conditions. In New Jersey, expanding unemployment insurance benefits for striking workers has provided a lifeline and leveled the playing field between workers and corporations. I’m proud to co-lead the Empowering Striking Workers Act to expand this policy to workers nationwide. This bill will ensure that all workers – regardless of their income – can use their voice and fight for a fair wage, better benefits, and safer workplaces,” said Rep. Norcross.


Adam Schiff’s statement goes on to say, “This legislation is critical to empowering workers. Just this year alone, the American public has witnessed the power of collective action through strikes like those held by the entertainment industry workers, automakers, and health care workers. Strikes have secured important advancements in pay, benefits and working conditions. And many individuals — particularly hourly workers and low-income people — do not have the same capacity to participate in strikes due to financial constraints. This stark reality can deprive workers from utilizing one of the most effective negotiating tactics, exacerbating income inequality.”


We assist clients with a full range of wage and hour issues. Call our California employment attorneys today for a completely free consultation. We represent all clients on contingency, which means we only collect attorney fees if we secure compensation for you. To learn more about how we can help you fight for justice, please contact us online, or call (310) 362-2016.