PA House Democrats Want You to Pay Striking Workers

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Publicly funding people not to work is too radical a policy even for California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Though he has every reason to curry favor with labor unions during his shadow campaign for president, Newsom vetoed legislation that would have allowed workers in a labor dispute to qualify for unemployment compensation. In support of his veto, Newsom cited the unfeasible cost of paying striking workers to stay home. 

In Pennsylvania, however, Democrats are undeterred by the indefensible. They want to put this radical experiment to the test with House Bill (HB) 1481, which passed the state’s Democratic-led House of Representatives in November. HB 1481 would give striking union members access to unemployment compensation. Under current state law, individuals who choose to be unemployed—like striking workers—don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. HB 1481 would remove this exemption for union members, effectively forcing taxpayers to subsidize labor strikes. 

The push for government benefits for striking workers is well-timed. Union executives led droves of workers to the picket lines this year, and, in many cases, they returned with only meager wins for their union members. The six-week United Auto Workers (UAW) strike brought home a deal with Ford that showed little difference from an agreement offered before the strike began. Ultimately, the strike failed to achieve several of the union’s main objectives, while UAW’s strike fund paid just $500 per week to striking workers. Simply put, taxpayer-funded unemployment benefits would allow union executives to deliver workers extra pay without wreaking havoc on members’ finances or losing face when strikes prove ineffective. 

Already, union executives wield all the power over workers when it comes to negotiating labor disputes. Union members, who may initially vote to authorize a strike, have little control over the labor dispute once union leadership hits the “destruct” button. UAW president Shawn Fain became a political celebrity for his single-handed control over strikes, including his coordination of labor disputes across the nation to increase their severity. Taxpayer subsidization of this behavior will only further empower union leadership to prolong the duration of strikes, even when it’s not in workers’ best interest. 

Meantime, by allowing benefits to flow only to union members, this proposed legislation offers an extortive recruiting device to union organizers. Workers have the right to refuse union membership, but union executives could instead use strikes, or the threat of them, to pressure workers. Workers would have every reason to join and pay union dues ahead of a strike when the alternatives are waiting for a strike to end without pay or crossing the picket line—both unfavorable options for any worker caught in the middle. 

Lawmakers must also consider the cost of paying people to stay home. Payroll taxes fund the unemployment compensation program, which wasn’t designed to support workers who voluntarily walk off the job. Longer strikes—made possible by government subsidy—would deplete the workers’ compensation program even faster, leaving lawmakers with little choice but to raise taxes. 

To promote HB 1481, the bill’s primary sponsors, state Reps. Mandy Steele and Dan Miller, have likened the proposal to similar policies allowing striking workers to collect unemployment benefits in New York and New Jersey. 

But even in New York, striking workers must pay back benefits if their companies provide back pay from the labor stoppage. HB 1481 includes no such provision. Instead, striking workers in Pennsylvania could double dip into unemployment benefits as well as their union’s strike funds and potential back pay. Workers could, consequently, receive more money by staying on the picket line than by agreeing to whatever raise comes their way from negotiations. 

Strikes hurt workers who become pawns of union leadership, businesses whose operations stall, and consumers who pay the resulting higher prices. Forcing taxpayers to foot the bill lays further insult to injury on all Pennsylvanians. 

State Senate Republicans need to kill HB 1481. And voters should be aware of how radical Democrats are spending their time when they should be busy meeting the needs of their constituents.

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