California Assembly Approves Bill to Extend Unemployment Benefits to Striking Workers

The California Assembly passed a bill on Monday that would allow workers who go on strike to receive unemployment insurance benefits after two weeks of being on the picket line. The bill, SB 799, was authored by State Senator Anthony Portantino and supported by several labor unions, including the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

The bill is important because it would provide a lifeline for workers who are fighting for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions in their industries. Currently, California is one of the few states that does not offer unemployment benefits to striking workers, while New York and New Jersey do. This puts California workers at a disadvantage when negotiating with employers who can use the threat of economic hardship to pressure them to accept unfavorable terms.

California Assembly Approves Bill to Extend Unemployment Benefits to Striking Workers
California Assembly Approves Bill to Extend Unemployment Benefits to Striking Workers

The bill would also help workers cope with the changing dynamics of their industries, especially in the entertainment sector, where new technologies and business models have disrupted the traditional ways of producing and distributing content. As WGA West President Meredith Stiehm said at a rally last week, “California is seeing an unprecedented number of striking workers who are facing significant uncertainty about the economics of their industries and changing business models.”

How did the bill pass and what are the next steps?

The bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 51-19, after clearing the Assembly Insurance Committee last week. The bill had previously passed the Senate in June with a vote of 25-11. However, because the bill was amended in the Assembly, it will have to go back to the Senate for concurrence before it can be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom for his signature.

The deadline for the Legislature to send bills to the governor is September 14, so the bill will have to be approved by the Senate Labor Committee and then by the full Senate in the next few days. If the bill reaches the governor’s desk, he will have until October 10 to sign or veto it.

The bill has faced opposition from some business groups and Republican lawmakers, who argue that it would increase costs for employers and taxpayers, and create an incentive for workers to strike more often. They also claim that the bill would violate federal law, which prohibits states from using federal funds to pay unemployment benefits to striking workers.

However, supporters of the bill counter that the bill would only use state funds, not federal funds, to pay for the benefits, and that it would not apply to all strikes, but only to those that are defensive or authorized by a union. They also point out that the bill would not change the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits, but only extend them to a group of workers who are currently excluded.

Who are the striking workers who would benefit from the bill?

The bill would benefit thousands of workers who are currently on strike or have been on strike recently in California. Some of the most prominent examples are:

  • The WGA members who have been on strike since May 2 against three major talent agencies: Creative Artists Agency (CAA), William Morris Endeavor (WME), and International Creative Management Partners (ICM). The writers are demanding that the agencies end their practice of packaging fees, which they say reduce their income and create conflicts of interest.
  • The SAG-AFTRA members who have been on strike since July 14 against three major video game companies: Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts (EA), and Take-Two Interactive. The actors are demanding that the companies pay them residuals for their performances in games that sell more than two million units, as well as provide them with better health and safety protections.
  • The hotel workers who have been on strike since August 23 at seven Marriott hotels in San Francisco. The workers are demanding that Marriott increase their wages, improve their benefits, and protect their jobs from outsourcing and automation.

These striking workers have been facing financial difficulties as they try to make ends meet without their regular income. Many of them have had to rely on savings, loans, credit cards, or assistance from their unions or other organizations. Some of them have also had to take on other jobs or gigs to supplement their income. By receiving unemployment benefits, these workers would be able to sustain themselves and their families while continuing their fight for justice.

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