California bill lets striking workers get unemployment

(NewsNation) — California lawmakers this week sent a bill to the governor’s desk that would make it so striking workers would be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Currently, employees who left work because of a “trade dispute” are ineligible for these benefits, which are paid for by the state’s unemployment fund.

But SB799 would restore an employee’s eligibility for these funds after the first two weeks of a strike, and codify existing law letting those who left work because of a lockout get these benefits.

It’s a bill that’s strongly supported by labor unions, but opposed by entities such as the California Chamber of Commerce.

Deadline writes the WGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Actors’ Equity and numerous unions spoke out at a committee hearing in favor of the bill. Writers and actors in Hollywood have been striking since May.

A WGA West rep read a statement from the guild’s president, Meredith Stiehm, saying writers have had to “rely on strike loans from our union, donations, philanthropy, and second and third jobs to pay for their basic needs since May 2.”

“Four months without work is emotionally brutal and financially disastrous. I’m proud to report that our members have held strong and kept their resolve throughout this long hot labor summer, but they are suffering,” the statement said.

On the California Senate floor Thursday, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who wrote the bill, said when someone goes on strike, “It’s not a romantic thing,” The Sacramento Bee reported.

“It’s hard on that family,” Portantino said. “People have raised legitimate concerns about the fund itself. The impact on that fund would be very minor relative to this bill, but the impact to the individual on strike would be significant.”

Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle called it “horrible,” The Bee said.

“This is a bad idea,” Dahle said, arguing that asking employers to fund unemployment benefits for workers striking against them is “unthinkable.”

Despite GOP opposition, the legislation passed the Senate on Thursday, while the state assembly did so Monday.

Alex Stack, Newsom’s deputy communications director, said in an email to NewsNation the governor’s office typically doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

The Los Angeles Times reports the governor did express concerns about the unemployment insurance fund’s debt at an event hosted by Politico on Tuesday. According to the LA Times, the unemployment fund is more than $18 billion in debt because it borrowed money from the federal government.

“I think one has to be cautious about that before you enter the conversation about expanding its utilization,” Newsom said.

Newsom has until Oct. 14 to act on the bill, which would go into effect January. If he does end up signing it, California would be the third state to give unemployment benefits to strikes, after New Jersey and New York.

Unemployment in California is $450 per week for a maximum of 26 weeks, the LA Times wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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