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California Labor Unions Announce End of Session Push for Unemployment Benefits for Striking Workers
SACRAMENTO – (Tuesday, August 22, 2023) – Today, labor unions across California joined Senators Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank) and Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) to announce new priority labor legislation SB 799 to allow union members on strike for at least two weeks to qualify for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.
“Striking workers have earned their unemployment insurance benefits. They deserve to use them when they are unable to work,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, Chief Officer of the California Labor Federation, sponsor of the bill. “We can’t have workers economically insecure because they’re forced to go out on strike, it harms them and their families and has rippling effects on the entire community.”
Workers across California are going on strike in record numbers, despite the hardship, to fight for better working conditions, wages, and job security. 11,500 Writers Guild of America members have been on strike since May 2. In July, 150,000 members of SAG AFTRA joined the writers for the first dual strike in the entertainment industry since 1960, shutting down production across the country. SEIU 121RN members at Garfield Medical Center recently launched a 10-day strike to end short-staffing and unsafe working conditions that endangers nurses and patients.
“SB 799 is critical legislation for all working Californians. Striking workers deserve the same protections that are afforded to other employees when they are not working. No one wants to go on strike—it’s an action of last resort and workers who find themselves in this position should not be penalized by withholding of state unemployment insurance benefits just because employers refuse to make a fair deal,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree Ireland.
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. One studio executive was quoted saying the employer’s strategy is to “allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” Another executive doubled down on that strategy calling it “a cruel but necessary evil.”
“For nearly four months, the studios’ strategy has been to starve writers into accepting a contract that does not fix what the business practices of the studios and streamers have broken. Years of eroding compensation and working conditions have left writers with fewer resources than ever to weather periods without work. Unemployment insurance for striking workers is a commonsense solution to keeping workers afloat and local economies healthy,” said Meredith Stiehm, President of Writers Guild of America-West. “It is already law in New York and New Jersey, and has been utilized by our union siblings in the Writers Guild of America, East. California needs to catch up, and meet the demands of the time. We are supporting this legislation so that other workers who need to strike to stand up for their rights can depend on UI benefits to help sustain themselves during a work stoppage.”
The UI system is not just a safety net for workers and their families. Those benefits—which are far less than workers regularly earn—are a lifeline that will go directly into the community. Retailers, restaurants, and other local businesses all benefit when striking workers have a little money to spend on necessities.
“The grocery workers strike in Southern California from 2003-2004 caused so many people to lose their cars, houses and their way of life,” said Brian Baxley, a UFCW member and produce manager at Albertsons in La Mirada. “I was on the line every day. I dipped into my savings and went into credit card debt to pay my mortgage and other expenses. Workers like me pay into the unemployment insurance fund, so when it’s needed, we should also be supported by the system. Unemployment benefits are there to keep workers afloat, this bill is very much needed to allow workers to fight for what they believe in and not be forced back to work because they can’t afford to feed themselves.”
“During our union’s month-long strike at General Motors in 2019, UAW members in California struggled to cover rent and mortgage expenses, and the state has only gotten more expensive since then. Passing SB 799 would ensure auto workers don’t have to experience those struggles this time around, and help us convince the auto companies that record profits should mean record contracts,” said Joel Benefield, UAW member and Chair of the Education Standing Committee at Local 230.
To arrange for an interview with Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher or any of the aforementioned unions, please contact Shubhangi Domokos at firstname.lastname@example.org or (916) 934-6963.
The California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO represents over 1,200 affiliated unions in California with over 2.2 million union members in trucking, retail, hospitality, janitorial, construction, health care, local and state government, education, arts and entertainment, warehousing and logistics, manufacturing, and a variety of other sectors.