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Senate Approves Bill Eliminating Unemployment Benefits for Workers on Strike

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Will Price
/
West Virginia Legislative Photography

The Senate has approved a bill that changes the eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits for striking workers. 

The chamber approved Senate Bill 222, 22 to 11, with one Senator absent on Wednesday.

The bill clarifies existing law to make sure that workers who voluntarily go on strike during a labor dispute cannot receive unemployment compensation.

Workers who are locked out of their jobs or who are permanently replaced by their employers are still able to claim unemployment under the bill.

Senate Judiciary Chair Charlie Trump explained on the chamber floor that state law currently prohibits workers who strike from receiving those benefits, but the practice hasn’t been clear.

 

“The fiscal note says that if we pass this into law, we’re going to save [about] $176,000 in fiscal year 2018, which I interpret to mean that the state believes, Workforce believes, that we have been paying workers unemployment benefits while they’re on strike,” Trump said.

 

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Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography
Sen. Mike Romano on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Democratic Sen. Mike Romano says the bill doesn’t just clarify current law, though, it also takes away some of the authority of the bureau of employment program’s commissioner. That commissioner decides whether a worker is on strike or has been locked out of his or her job and therefore eligible for benefits.

 

“One of the purposes of the bill is to eliminate some of the discretionary judgment that the commissioner has," Trump said in response to questions about the commissioner's authority, "and to try to define what is a strike, what is a lock out and not have it be subject to someone’s arbitrariness or discretion.”

 

But union groups in the state are already speaking out against the bill, including the AFL-CIO.

 

“The idea behind negotiating contracts and collective bargaining agreements is that both the employee and the employer sit down on equal standing, on equal ground so they can debate and negotiate a fair contract," Josh Sword with the West Virginia AFL-CIO said.

 

"This just tips the scale to the employer and makes it more difficult for employees to get a fair deal when they’re negotiating a contract.”

 

Sword thinks the legislation is an overreach and is actually interfering in the labor negotiating process.

 

“To me, it’s a question of are we going to make sure that the money that’s paid into that unemployment compensation fund by taxpayers’ employers is preserved for the people whom we all agree truly deserve it because they’ve been laid off or RIFed or are we going to have an administrative judge paying out benefits to people who voluntarily walk off their job and go out and strike and set up a picket line? And I say no, we don’t have the luxury to spend those unemployment benefits to subsidize that type of labor activity.”- Sen. Charles Trump, R- Morgan County.

 

But Sword maintains the bill will only hurt working families.

 

The Senate approved SB 222 on a party-line vote, with one Senator absent. It now heads to the House of Delegates.


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