What striking workers need to know about unemployment benefits

Kaiser Permanente employees along with union members representing workers walk the strike line in Los Angeles on October 4, 2023.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

As 2023 proves to be a massive year for worker strikes, pressure to provide unemployment benefits to those on the picket line is also increasing.

There is currently no federal law guaranteeing unemployment benefits to strikers, but at least two states, New York and New Jersey, have adopted their own policies offering the benefits to workers who refuse to work in protest of their working conditions. A strike can last Days, weeks or even monthsand workers typically lose their wages during this time.

Meanwhile, other states have recently passed laws that would do the same thing.

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The California legislature has decided an invoice Last month that would benefit the state’s strikers, but Gov. Gavin Newsom ultimately vetoed itand pointed out that the state unemployment fund is currently in the red due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Massachusetts, Connecticut And Pennsylvania have recently tried to also provide unemployment benefits to striking workers.

There are also efforts at the federal level to expand the unemployment program to cover strikers, said Michele Evermore, senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

“There’s a whole generation of labor activists who are really pushing but also haven’t experienced the rigor and uncertainty of a strike and realize they need help getting through it,” Evermore said.

Members of the United Auto Workers demonstrate in Wayne, Michigan on September 20, 2023.

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Critics say providing unemployment benefits to strikers puts employers at a disadvantage in negotiations and encourages workers to strike.

“To me, on its face, this is an absurd notion,” said Rob Sampson, a Republican senator in Connecticut. said at a state committee hearing on the issue earlier this year. “People voluntarily quit their jobs.”

According to Johnnie Kallas, a Ph.D., there have been 312 strikes so far in 2023, involving about 453,000 workers, compared to 180 strikes and 43,700 workers in the same period two years ago. Candidate at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Project Director of the ILR Labor Action Tracker.

Here’s what else striking workers should know about unemployment benefits.

New York and New Jersey offer unemployment benefits to strikers

new York offered some form of unemployment benefits to striking workers before unemployment insurance was even written into federal law, Evermore said.

Additionally, state legislatures will decide in 2020 drastically reduced The length of time a worker must be on strike before beginning to receive unemployment benefits is seven weeks to 14 days.

Striking workers in the Empire State can typically receive benefits for up to 26 weeks.

According to the New York State Department of Labor, if the employer provides an employee with back pay after the strike ends, the state could require reimbursement of the benefit.

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The department “remains committed to ensuring that affected workers have access to the resources to which they are entitled during difficult times, including labor strikes,” it said.

Workers who strike in New Jersey may also be eligible for unemployment benefits, lawmakers recently determined shortened the waiting time for approval there too from 30 to 14 days.

“These benefits are critical to providing individuals going through this process the support they need to continue to care for themselves and their families during difficult times,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement in April.

Employees in the state are generally eligible to receive unemployment benefits up to 26 weeks.

Other Ways to Qualify for Unemployment Compensation

Across the country, most workers are allowed to collect unemployment benefits if they are affected by a strike, as long as this is not the involved in the dispute, finances it or is directly interested in it“, says the Century Foundation.

Most states provide unemployment benefits to workers who are unable to work due to a lockout. Generally, a lockout occurs when employees are ready to perform their jobs but the employer refuses to allow them to return.

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