Pennsylvania House OKs jobless benefits for strikers
Meeting in the State Capitol building, the Pennsylvania, legislators ok'd jobless benefits for strikers | Matt Rourke/AP

HARRISBURG, Pa. — By a 106-97 vote, the Pennsylvania State House voted on November 15 to grant jobless benefits to striking workers. Every House Democrat and four Republicans backed the legislation, while the rest of the Republicans opposed it.

Democrats said jobless benefits for the workers, which would begin 30 days after the strike starts, would help level the playing field. While they’re out on strike—often forced to strike by bosses—workers can after delays draw union strike benefits, which do not come close to weekly pay.

Meanwhile, capitalist bosses, with more wealth, can hire scabs and defy labor law and the National Labor Relations Board. Several lawmakers noted that’s the case in the year-long strike the right-wing Block brothers, owners of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have forced on the Pittsburgh Newspaper Guild and five other unions at the paper.

If the employer locks out the workers, the jobless benefits would start immediately, lead sponsor Rep. Mandy Steele, D-Allegheny County, added in a summary.

“Undertaking a strike is a serious decision that a union and its members do not make lightly and usually comes after any negotiations have reached a standstill. When this type of impasse is reached, I believe these striking workers should not be denied unemployment compensation, as many months can pass until a negotiation is settled,” Steele’s summary says.

“While this situation is not ideal for both employees AND employers, employers can hire temporary replacement workers, while striking employees must simply ‘stick it out’ and wait for a resolution to be reached. I believe the right thing to do is to offer striking employees the same eligibility status as any other eligible worker who meets all other requirements under our Unemployment Compensation Act.”

The measure now goes to the State Senate, which the Republicans control 28-22. Half of its seats are up next year. Many, if not most, Pennsylvania Republican state senators are anti-worker, MAGA Trumpites, or both.

“The bill also removes existing language in the law that says workers unemployed due to a labor dispute are only eligible for benefits if they have no direct interest in the dispute and are not members of an organization participating in it–a clause which currently locks union members out of benefits during strikes,” Harvard University’s OnLabor blog reported.

“Employers can hire replacement workers, but striking workers must deal with the crushing financial burdens,” said Steele. “This is not putting a thumb on the scale in negotiations, rather this is to balance the scale.”

Foes of jobless benefits for strikers, which are current law in two of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states, New York and New Jersey, often “falsely suppose it’s your fault for going on strike, not your employers’” fault, added Rep. David Delloso, D-Delaware County, a Teamsters Local 107 Business Agent.

“If the right to strike is a legal guarantee from the federal government then there should be economic supports in place” for those exercising that right, Steele said.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.