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October 25, 2023

Reps. Schiff, Ocasio-Cortez, Norcross, and 35 + Colleagues Introduce Bill to Grant Striking Workers Unemployment Insurance

Over 20 labor unions endorse the bill such as the United Auto Workers, American Federation of Teachers, Writers Guild of America-West, California Labor Federation, and more

Washington, D.C. — Today, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), introduced the Empowering Striking Workers Act, new legislation that would ensure workers exercising their legal right to collectively bargain, as well as workers indirectly impacted, are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits after 14 days of striking. 

“We know that strong unions are vital to a strong middle class. It’s why I’m introducing legislation to ensure that workers receive the support they need to provide for themselves and their families while they fight for a living wage. The corporate executives who are sitting on one side of the negotiating table get paid during a strike, and workers should too, otherwise management can simply wait them out. Workers shouldn’t have to choose between better working conditions or putting food on the table,” said Rep. Schiff, author of the Empowering Striking Workers Act.

“Strikes are a necessary collective bargaining tool for workers to secure fair wages and working conditions. Unfortunately, many low-income and hourly workers are often forced to choose between earning a paycheck and organizing for better working conditions. The Empowering Striking Works Act addresses this difficult choice, ensuring workers are eligible for unemployment assistance while on strike. This bill is vital to ensuring that the most vulnerable workers can collectively act without worrying about putting food on the table,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.

“Going on strike is a last resort and a difficult and serious decision for workers. When employers have refused a fair contract or to even negotiate, workers are left with few choices. We’ve seen firsthand the power of collective action this year, with workers across America securing better contracts and working conditions. In New Jersey, expanding unemployment insurance benefits for striking workers has provided a lifeline and leveled the playing field between workers and corporations. I’m proud to co-lead the Empowering Striking Workers Act to expand this policy to workers nationwide. This bill will ensure that all workers – regardless of their income – can use their voice and fight for a fair wage, better benefits, and safer workplaces,” said Rep. Norcross.

This legislation is critical to empowering workers. Just this year alone, the American public has witnessed the power of collective action through strikes like those held by the entertainment industry workers, automakers, and health care workers. Strikes have secured important advancements in pay, benefits and working conditions. And many individuals — particularly hourly workers and low-income people — do not have the same capacity to participate in strikes due to financial constraints. This stark reality can deprive workers from utilizing one of the most effective negotiating tactics, exacerbating income inequality.

Since its introduction, the Empowering Striking Workers Act has received broad support across organized labor and pro-worker organizations:

“When corporations attempt to starve workers during a strike or lockout lasting longer than fourteen days, workers should qualify for much-needed assistance that will keep food on the table and a roof over their heads as they fight for a fair deal on the job. We applaud Rep. Schiff for introducing legislation that provides some measure of economic protection to working people who are unfairly locked out of work or forced to strike for the dignity and respect they deserve. The AFL-CIO calls on Congress to pass this important measure to protect workers and their families during a strike or lockout,” said Liz Shuler, President, AFL-CIO 

Workers are the backbone of America. Unions are the only way workers can be treated fairly against big business greed. But once forced to strike, how do we Americans support them to get a fair deal if we don’t help them continue to put food on the table while in strike negotiations? As Frederick Douglass said, 'Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.' Let’s help even the playing field by supporting this bill on behalf of workers when they fight for fairness against employers," said Fran Drescher, President, SAG-AFTRA.

“No worker wants to go on strike. However, with the stark gap between the wealthy and working folks growing, as exemplified by CEO pay skyrocketing and 1 in 4 American families not being able to cover a $400 emergency, workers are fighting back. That is why many workers want to belong to unions. But sometimes it takes a strike to secure economic fairness. This legislation provides striking workers with access to the very unemployment benefits they have contributed to with every paycheck. It is essential that we support those who are on the picket line fighting for better compensation for all workers as they also fight to provide for their families as well,” said Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers. 

“When workers are forced to go on strike, they bear a unique penalty in the form of lost income, unlike any other unemployed worker. IATSE proudly stands behind Rep. Adam Schiff's Empowering Striking Workers Act, advocating for future workers who may find themselves in the challenging position of going on strike. Workers exercising their rights in order to achieve a fair contract should not be forced into debt. They shouldn’t have to jeopardize their hard-earned retirement security in order to pay their bills. This safety net is something we can and should offer to support those who make the difficult choice to strike,” said Matthew D. Loeb, International President, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

“Every working American pays into the unemployment insurance system, and they should be able to access it during a strike. The problem with current law is that it assumes workers choose to go out on strike. Let’s be clear. Workers don’t want to withhold their labor; employers force workers into exercising their right to strike. Denying workers the unemployment insurance they have earned turns the logic of the whole program on its head. It also puts a government thumb on the scale in favor of employers. If the right to strike is, in fact, a basic, fundamental right, we should not deny workers a benefit they’ve earned to starve them into submission. The International Union of Operating Engineers is pleased to support Congressman Schiff’s legislation to address this glaring inequity. We appreciate his leadership on this straight forward policy to help level the playing field for hardworking Americans,” said James T. Callahan, General President, International Union of Operating Engineers.

“The Empowering Striking Workers Act will offer working families in California and across the country equal access to unemployment insurance while engaging in their legal right to protest injustice in the workplace and improve their working conditions. This bill must be passed swiftly on behalf of every worker currently missing a paycheck,” said Frank Arce, District 9 Vice President, Communications Workers of America.

“A worker who goes out on strike, or is laid off because of a strike, faces the same uncertain economic future as other jobless workers. Without a steady paycheck, workers miss rent payments, lose their healthcare, and cannot afford necessities like groceries and childcare. Today’s bill requiring all states to join New York and New Jersey in allowing striking workers, and other workers impacted by the strike, to receive their earned unemployment benefits ensures workers will not be forced into poverty and desperation when exercising their protected rights to organize, a crucial part of building a good jobs economy,” said Rebecca Dixon, President and CEO of the National Employment Law Project.

The Empowering Striking Workers Act is supported by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), National Employment Law Project (NELP), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Labor Federation, Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Communications Workers of America - Association of Flight Attendants (CWA-AFA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), United Auto Workers (UAW), Writers Guild of America West (WGAW), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), National Nurses United (NNU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), International Brotherhood of Teamsters, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), United Steelworkers (USW), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA!), United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA),International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC).

The Empowering Striking Workers Act is co-sponsored by Representatives Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Nikki Budzinski (D-Ill.), Greg Casar (D-Texas), Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Valerie P. Foushee (D-N.C.), Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Jesús G. 'Chuy' García (D-Ill.), Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Al Green (D-Texas), Val Hoyle (D-Ore.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.), Kevin Mullin (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), and Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.). 

Click HERE to read the bill text.