California Senate Approves Bill Granting Unemployment Benefits to Striking Workers

California’s Senate has passed a significant bill, Senate Bill 799, that would grant striking workers in the state access to unemployment insurance benefits of up to $450 per week. 

The bill, which was approved by a vote of 27-12, had previously been passed in the state Assembly and now awaits the decision of Governor Gavin Newsom, who can either sign it into law or veto it.

The bill’s passage is a significant development for striking workers in California. Currently, they are ineligible for unemployment benefits as their actions are considered to be a voluntary departure from their jobs. However, Senate Bill 799 seeks to change this by providing a safety net for striking workers and their families.

Numerous unions and labor organizations across the state have expressed their support for the bill, including the Writers Guild, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Actors’ Equity, the California Labor Federation, and AFL-CIO. Advocates argue that the bill will level the playing field for workers, ensuring they have financial support while on strike.

WGA West President Meredith Stiehm and SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Joely Fisher testified in favor of the bill in Sacramento. The WGA has been on strike since May 2, and SAG-AFTRA since July 14, making this bill particularly relevant for their members.

The bill was co-authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino, Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, and Assemblyman Chris Holden. They emphasize the importance of addressing the financial needs of striking workers who are making significant sacrifices for their future livelihoods.

While supporters celebrate this victory for California workers, the California Chamber of Commerce has opposed the bill, labeling it a “job killer” and expressing concerns about the strain it may place on the state’s unemployment insurance fund, which is already $18 billion in debt. They estimate that the bill could add approximately $2 billion to that debt over the next decade.

Governor Newsom’s stance on the bill remains uncertain, given his history of vetoing bills, having vetoed 169 last year while signing nearly 1,000 into law. In 2019, a similar bill narrowly failed in the Senate by just two votes.

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