California lawmakers have passed legislation allowing workers on strike, including picketing Hollywood studios, to be eligible for unemployment benefits. The move comes during escalating tensions between labor unions and employers.
- Bill Background: Under Senate Bill 799, California might join the ranks of New York and New Jersey as the only states where striking workers can collect unemployment benefits. If enacted, workers on strike would qualify for unemployment benefits after two weeks on the picket line. The proposal has received heavy endorsement from labor unions and faced opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce.
- Governor’s Stance: Governor Gavin Newsom is now at a crossroads, determining whether to sign the bill into law. While he has been relatively reserved throughout Hollywood’s ongoing strikes, Newsom recently raised concerns about the state’s overburdened unemployment fund, which is currently $18 billion in debt. “One has to be cautious,” Newsom commented at a Politico event, hinting at the strain on resources.
- Party Lines: Democrats, spearheaded by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank), the bill’s author, have been clear in their support for the bill. Portantino emphasized the bill’s role in helping citizens meet basic needs like rent and food. Meanwhile, Republicans voiced opposition, as the bill favors labor unions over businesses’ whims.
- Unemployment Details: The state’s unemployment benefits offer up to $450 per week for 26 weeks. There are criteria to fulfill to qualify, including demonstrable efforts to search for employment.
- Union Perspective: High-profile labor unions such as the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA have advocated for the bill. In early September, union members rallied to support SB 799, emphasizing its significance for striking workers. While unions have strike funds to assist workers financially, they argue that more is needed for prolonged strikes.
Next Steps: With the Assembly giving the green light earlier this week, the bill’s fate now lies in the governor’s hands.