Democratic legislators in California have sponsored a measure late in the legislative session that would enable striking screenwriters, housekeepers, and school janitors to continue receiving unemployment benefits.
Proponents of the measure, including the influential California Labour Federation, have said they want to capitalise on the energy generated by a spate of high-profile walkouts in the state this year. Actors and screenwriters went on strike in July, effectively halting production in Hollywood, and the suggestion comes as hotel employees in Southern California continue to participate in deliberate walkouts, advising visitors to stay away.
This week, key Democrats submitted a plan that would make it possible for workers who are participating in a labour dispute to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits after two weeks of being unemployed. Workers who go on strike now have to depend on savings or strike funds put up by unions since they are not eligible for unemployment compensation.
Although the idea wouldn’t take effect until January, it might provide California employees with more motivation to go on strike over wages and conditions and the financial resources to prolong a walkout. State business organisations are strongly opposed to the plan, claiming that it will increase employer expenses, and have committed to resist it until the deadline of September 14.
Labour authorities in California report that employees’ challenges to make ends meet have worsened since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly in the last several years as inflation has skyrocketed. Therefore, employees in a wider variety of sectors have begun to challenge their bosses.
The head of the labour federation, Lorena Gonzalez, stated, “We have people bargaining over things that are truly existential threats,” mentioning the fear of automation among screenwriters as an example.
In 2019, when Ms. Gonzalez was a Democratic state legislator, she introduced a similar legislation that ultimately failed to pass the Legislature. She said that in the years since then, politicians have realised that providing striking employees with extended unemployment benefits (up to $450 per week) prevents them from becoming homeless or relying on public assistance while their employers wait them out.
This idea would likely spark renewed conflict between labour unions and corporate organisations in Sacramento, who have been at odds over everything from pandemic regulations to perks for gig workers in recent years. Although most Democrats in the state legislature are on the side of labour, there are moderate business owners in the Democratic caucus who could refuse to vote with the party.
The law also needs the approval of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who has previously prioritised corporate interests above those of organised labour. His administration said that it did not provide feedback on proposed laws.
This month, officials of the California Chamber of Commerce said that doing so would unjustly penalise struggling firms, even those who are not in a dispute with their employees, by potentially increasing payroll taxes as a result of enabling striking workers to obtain unemployment benefits.
The California Chamber of Commerce cited the state’s bankrupt unemployment insurance fund, which borrowed $20 billion from the federal government to keep paying out benefits throughout the epidemic. Another consequence of the instability is a deficit of almost $1 billion this year, as anticipated by the state legislative analyst in a recent study.
The state’s most influential business body, the chamber, objected to the idea of paying rewards to strikers. Robert Moutrie, a lobbyist for the chamber, said that “being involuntarily unemployed is fundamentally different than voluntarily going on strike.”
Screenwriters’ Guild of America and Actors’ Equity Association union heads, on the other hand, blamed the studios and employers for the strikes. They said that the law will improve access to necessary resources for employees.
Democratic state senator Anthony Portantino of the greater Los Angeles region and the bill’s chief sponsor suggested raising payroll taxes as one option for ensuring the long-term solvency of the state’s unemployment insurance programme.