Pennsylvania workers who are walking the picket line would be able to collect unemployment benefits under a proposal by the House Democrats. The bill cleared the House last week and now sits in the Senate for approval.
Pennsylvania House Democrats on Wednesday passed a bill that would expand worker rights and allows workers to collect unemployment compensation while they are on strike.
House Bill 1481, which was introduced by State Rep. Mandy Steele (D-Allegheny), advanced out of the House Labor and Industry Committee by a party line vote in October and passed the House by a 106-97 vote on Wednesday. The bill is now in the Senate awaiting consideration.
“HB 1481 is a critical piece of legislation that creates a level playing field for workers during a strike, giving them the ability to qualify for unemployment compensation when striking,” Steele told reporters during a press conference on Wednesday. “Currently, our workers are not afforded this opportunity which gives employers an unfair advantage during labor disputes with four young children.”
Steele went on to explain how her own family sacrificed and struggled during a strike..
“My family once went for nine months without income,” Steele said.
“Trust me, I know the pain and strain and heartache that this causes a family. Employers can hire replacement workers like that, but striking workers must endure the crushing financial burdens that comes with a strike that can last for many months or even longer.”
Wednesday’s press conference included workers and labor leaders who would benefit from this legislation. One labor leader in particular, Keith Beavers, who is the President of United Steelworkers Local 1138 and represents workers at Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, explained how companies like ATI exploit labor laws to their advantage.
“I’ve been through a lockout, I’ve been through a strike and it seems that the rules and regulations for strikes and lockouts are heavily laid in favor of the company,” Beavers told reporters.
“During our lockout in 2015 and 2016, our employer delayed our unemployment benefits we were legally entitled to at that time to try to starve us out and take a less contract. These benefits, they were crucial from preventing workers from losing their homes and continuing to keep food on the table.”
Steve Catanese, President of Service Employees International Union Local 668, echoed the same sentiments but wanted to remind reporters and lawmakers that workers from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette have been on strike for over one year.
“Those workers at the Post Gazette had to sit there and fight at the national level to get some type of recognition that their boss was breaking the law so they could get some type of relief,” Catanese said.
“The reason we support a bill like this is, to be very candid, rules are broken against working people, period…we don’t want to put too much of a thumb on the scale for labor. We put so much weight on the other side, we need to shovel to dig ourselves out of the mess we’re in.