Portantino Reintroduces Striking Worker Bill

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Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank) reintroduced his striking work bill today, which seeks to provide unemployment insurance benefits for striking workers. SB 1116 is sponsored by the California Labor Federation and jointly authored by Senator Maria Elena Durazo. 

“Last year, workers from many different business segments across the state were on strike, concerned for their future livelihood,” stated Senator Portantino. “I think it’s important to bring this bill back and send a strong message to the women and men who were on strike that we recognize the impact it had on their family’s ability to pay rent and put food on a table,” stated Senator Portantino. “I am grateful to the labor advocates with whom we are working closely on this effort.”

The right to strike to improve working conditions, wages, and address other issues in collective bargaining is codified in law for workers in the public and private sector. When workers go on strike they lose their income, deplete their savings, struggle to pay rent and mortgages, and debt accumulates. Protracted strikes are difficult for workers and hurt local businesses while well-compensated employees fuel consumer activity and lead to a healthy economy. Existing law and case history currently prohibits striking workers—and some locked out workers—from being eligible for UI benefits. This prohibition is a major obstacle for many workers to overcome to improve their working conditions.

“Unemployment Insurance is an earned benefit for workers, created to ensure they don’t hungry, bankrupt, or losing their homes because they are temporarily out of work. There is no reason to punish workers forced to go on strike by excluding them from this protection,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. “It’s time we end this unfair exclusion as multiple other states have already done.”

In 2022, the Governor signed AB 2530, which provided subsidized health coverage to striking workers whose employers terminated health benefits. The bill has already provided a vital lifeline to workers on strike but does not help with the loss of income. SB 1116 will provide another lifeline by allowing striking or locked out workers to be eligible for much needed UI benefits for the duration of the dispute.

The UI system is funded through payroll taxes paid by employers’ contributions. Employers in California pay payroll taxes on the first $7,000 employee pay—the lowest “taxable wage base” allowed under federal law, and one of the lowest in the country. Currently, New York and New Jersey allow striking workers to collect UI and recently expanded eligibility.

SB 1116 is co-sponsored by California IATSE Council, California State Legislative Board of the SMART – Transportation Division, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, Communication Workers of America, District 9, Entertainment Union Coalition, SAG-AFTRA, UNITE HERE, United Food & Commercial Workers Western States Council, and Writers Guild of America West.