If Connecticut’s Democrat-run General Assembly and Governor Ned Lamont (D) approve a bill now before the Joint Committee on Labor and Public Employees, striking workers will gain the right to collect unemployment.
Current state law does not permit union strikers to collect jobless benefits, as eligibility requires having come into “unemployment through no fault of your own.” The legislation under consideration, sponsored by State Representatives Michael Winkler (D-Vernon), David Michel (D-Stamford) and Robyn Porter (D-Hamden) would, starting this October, allow strikers to get unemployment checks two weeks into a labor walkout.
Such a policy would mean employers, who pay the taxes that fund jobless benefits, would financially aid the strikes taking place at their worksites. Critics say the measure is partly intended to help those who want to strike to do so for longer, and supporters haven’t denied this is a motive.
“Had we had unemployment benefits to rely on during the 2019 strike, we might have been able to stay out longer,” United Commercial Food Workers member Mary Jane Massimino, who struck with fellow Stop & Shop employees for 11 days in April 2019, told legislators in a hearing last week.
Meghan Portfolio, an analyst at the pro-free-market Yankee Institute, noted in a policy brief that many labor organizations maintain “strike funds” to replace some of the income that members lose when they cease working. She observed that if the state forces employers to subsidize their employees’ walkouts, unions could then shift the money in the strike funds to different uses including lobbying and other political activity.
“State government is supposed to remain neutral in disputes between private-sector management and labor,” Portfolio wrote. “But [the Winkler-Michel-Porter bill] would weaponize the unemployment insurance [UI] system, and put the thumb on the scale for one of Connecticut’s most influential special interests.”
Opponents of the proposal also worry that it would spell trouble for Connecticut’s UI trust fund, which spent everything it had during the lockdowns of 2020 after the onset of COVID-19. The federal government ended up lending $800 million to cover that loss and Portfolio noted that Constitution-State businesses anticipate the state will force them to compensate for that debt in the near future.
So heavily might the legislation impact the state’s UI system that even the Lamont administration has expressed some reservations about it. Labor Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo also testified last week that the bill “would result in significant programming and technology system changes” that would make implementation difficult “until at least 2025.”
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