Striking Workers Could Get Federal Food Benefits Under New Bill From John Fetterman

FILE - Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., leaves an intelligence briefing on the unknown aerial objects the U.S. military shot down this weekend at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 14, 2023. Fetterman is in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to seek treatment for clinical depression. His office said Thursday that Fetterman checked himself in Wednesday night. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By Sean Kitchen

July 27, 2023

“Right now, union members exercising their right to strike are excluded from getting the same SNAP nutrition benefits that other workers are eligible for. John Fetterman’s bill changes that,” said Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) introduced legislation on Thursday that would allow striking workers to qualify for federal food assistance benefits while walking the picket line. This pro-worker legislation—the Food Secure Strikers Act of 2023—is the first ever of its kind to be proposed by a member of Congress. 

“Every union worker who is walking the picket line this summer needs to know that we have their back here in Washington,” Fetterman said in a press release.  

Fetterman, who serves as the Chair of the Nutrition Subcommittee in the Senate called this bill “plain common sense.” 

“I’m proud to introduce this bill that will eliminate the need for workers to choose between fighting for fair working conditions and putting food on the table for their families,” said Fetterman.

The legislation would repeal restrictions prohibiting striking workers from receiving benefits via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Workers who are on strike are currently prohibited from receiving these benefits, because being on strike is classified as refusing work under the SNAP guidelines. 

The Food Secure Strikers Act would clarify that any income-eligible household can receive SNAP benefits regardless if a member of that household is involved in a strike. The bill also ensures that public sector workers who are fired for striking remain eligible.

Labor leaders from across the commonwealth are praising Fetterman’s bill. 

“The decision to go on strike is never taken lightly, and those brave workers who are forced to strike are put in an awful position while they are fighting for better working conditions,” Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO president Daniel P. Bauder said in an email. 

“The Food Secure Strikers Act of 2023 would ensure striking workers and their families are taken care of during an extremely difficult time. This bill is fundamental to protecting workers and their families. It’s been a hot labor summer and we are prepared to turn the temperature up to ensure striking workers and their families are better protected!” Bauder added.

Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, also heaped praise on Fetterman’s effort.

“John Fetterman time after time has proven his commitment to standing with and jumping out front in his support for working families and we will always be forever indebted to him for his commitment to working families,” Kelly said.

“Right now, union members exercising their right to strike are excluded from getting the same SNAP nutrition benefits that other workers are eligible for. John Fetterman’s bill changes that,” Kelly added.

Twelve of Fetterman’s colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus signed onto the bill including Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) and progressives Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 

“When workers make the difficult decision to strike, they are often doing so for fairer wages and benefits because they cannot afford to live and raise their families. Oftentimes, employers believe they can wait out workers who struggle financially to lure them into a worse agreement,” Sen. Casey said. “Workers shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and a fair deal—that’s why I’m cosponsoring the Food Secure Strikers Act.” 

This legislation comes as there are several high-profile strikes happening in Pennsylvania and across the country. Workers with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Local 506 and 618 are on strike at the Wabtec locomotive plant in Erie, and members of the Communications Workers of America are on strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

The strike at the Post-Gazette, which has entered its ninth month, is one of the longest newspaper strikes in recent history. Workers walked out the newsroom in Oct. 2022 after the owners of the Post-Gazette canceled their healthcare.

According to WESA, workers at the newspaper have been working without a contract since March 2017 and have not had a pay raise in over 16 years.  

 

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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