Portantino Bill to Provide Unemployment Insurance for Striking Workers

Tuesday, August 22 2023

For Immediate Release: August 22, 2023

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Portantino Bill to Provide Unemployment Insurance for Striking Workers

Sacramento, CA – Senate 799, authored by Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank), seeks to provide unemployment insurance (UI) for striking workers. Under SB 799, striking workers would become eligible for benefits after a worker is on strike for two weeks. The idea is not new or novel, as New York and New Jersey have passed similar laws.

“There is tremendous concern within our workforce across California. Currently, we see writers, hotel workers, nurses, city and county workers all striking and it is deeply concerning,” stated Senator Portantino. “SB 799 will help workers put food on their table when they need it most, in the middle of a labor negotiation. It’s better for the worker and the economy to have job security and a seat at the table as we negotiate the future of the workforce, while business and economic models change.”

The right to strike to improve working conditions, wages, and address other issues in collective bargaining is codified in law for workers in the public and private sector. However, the decision to go on strike means that workers lose all income, deplete their savings, rent and mortgages go unpaid, and debt accumulates. Existing law and case history currently prohibits striking workers—and some locked out workers—from being eligible for UI benefits. This prohibition is a major obstacle to workers fighting to improve their wages and working conditions against employers who refuse to reach agreement.

Last year, the Governor signed AB 2530, which provided subsidized health coverage to striking workers whose employers terminated health benefits. That bill has already provided a vital lifeline to workers on strike but does not help with the loss of income. SB 799 will provide another lifeline by allowing striking or locked out workers to be eligible for much needed UI benefits for the duration of the dispute.

The UI system is funded through payroll taxes paid by employers’ contributions. Employers in California pay payroll taxes on the first $7,000 employee pay—the lowest “taxable wage base” allowed under federal law, and one of the lowest in the country. Currently, New York and New Jersey allow striking workers to collect UI and recently expanded eligibility.