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Under Senate Bill, Striking Workers Disqualified from Unemployment Benefits

Will Price
West Virginia Legislative Photography

Senators are considering a bill that would change the eligibility for unemployment benefits for workers on strike. It’s a measure the bill’s lead sponsor says other states have adopted, but West Virginia union leaders already oppose.

Senate Bill 222 would make workers who have temporarily lost their jobs due to a strike ineligible for unemployment benefits from the state. 

Workers who go on strike and are permanently replaced at their jobs or workers who are impacted by a lock out can still receive those benefits. 

“This bill as I see it will do more harm to both the company and the employees,” Pat Maroney told the committee. He's general counsel for the West Virginia AFL-CIO.

Maroney testified the bill creates an unequal playing field for union workers and employers during a contract negotiation period, giving businesses the upper hand.

Going without pay will pressure unions to come to an agreement more quickly, and Maroney said businesses will no longer be negotiating in good faith, like federal and state law requires them to do.

“The purpose of collective bargaining is so that the parties themselves can resolve disputes. In this instance, this will not be in favor of keeping a hands-off of labor disputes," he said. "It will not do that. In fact it will be an intrusion by the state into the collective bargaining process.”

Republican Senator Ryan Weld, the bill's lead sponsored said the bill does nothing to impede collective bargaining.

“It doesn’t take their ability away to join a union, to engage in the negotiating process when their contract comes up, it doesn’t take away their right to fight for stronger benefits for higher wages," he said Wednesday. "It doesn’t do anyone’s right to do any of that.”

Weld said the bill is in the best interest of the taxpayers.

It’s attached fiscal note from Workforce West Virginia says upon implementation in 2018, the state will save about $175,000 in unemployment benefit costs, and Weld said in the state’s current financial climate, every dollar counts.

“The state shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing the cost of a labor dispute between a company and its employees and this just kind of removes the state from the equation,” he said

Democratic Senators on the Workforce Committee were quick to disagree. All four voted against advancing the bill.

Senate Bill 222 was approved by the Senate Workforce Committee Wednesday and will soon make its way to the chamber’s Finance Committee for a second look.

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