Portantino’s Striking Worker Bill Passes Assembly Insurance Committee

Thursday, August 31 2023

For Immediate Release: August 31, 2023

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Portantino’s Striking Worker Bill Passes Assembly Insurance Committee

Sacramento, CA – Today, Senate Bill 799, authored by Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank), passed the Assembly Insurance Committee. The bill seeks to provide unemployment insurance (UI) for striking workers. The bill is sponsored by the California Labor Federation and is jointly authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden and Senator Maria Elena Durazo.  

“California is seeing an unprecedented number of striking workers who are facing significant uncertainty about the economics of their industries and changing business models. From writers to hotel workers and allies, they are demonstrating unity and strength while demanding respect and fair compensation,” stated Senator Portantino. “It is critical that the workers have a seat at the table to negotiate their future and the well-being of their families. SB 799 will help them put food on their table when they need it most - in the middle of those important labor negotiations. California has always been a leader in protecting workers’ rights and its time ensure striking workers have the unemployment benefits that other unemployed workers are entitled to.”

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. When workers go on strike they lose their income, deplete their savings, struggle to pay rent and mortgages, and debt accumulates. Protracted strikes are difficult for workers and hurt local businesses while well-compensated employees fuel consumer activity and lead to a healthy economy. 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 for many workers to overcome to improve their working conditions.

Meredith Stiehm, President of the Writers Guild of America West, provided the following comments today during the hearing:

“The cost of UI for striking workers does not break the bank in New York, yet striking workers in California are penalized when there is a work stoppage – a penalty that no other worker faces when unemployed. It’s time for California to catch up and meet the demands of the time. Writers are the present day examples of workers who could greatly benefit from UI. But we’re really here for the workers in the future who will need this protection if they make the difficult decision to go on strike. It is a safety net California can and should provide to striking workers.”

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.

SAG/AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Joely Fisher added her strong testimony:

“Denying UI to striking workers is another way employers hold an unfair advantage over workers fighting for what’s right. CEOs play the waiting game, knowing workers living on the margins have rent to pay and groceries to buy. SB 799 gives workers a chance to fight for what’s fair. We are in the fight of our lives—for our jobs, our industry, our future. We cannot wait any longer for UI benefits that will help us survive and will help all workers who stand up to fight for a better future.”

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.

“There are moments in time when extraordinary people need leaders to act accordingly. Today, the Assembly Insurance Committee took that action to move this bill forward and sent a message to the women and men on strike that Sacramento cares and will fight hard on their behalf,” concluded Senator Portantino.