Washington may become one of a few states that allow striking workers to qualify for unemployment benefits under certain conditions. SB 5777/HB 1893 would allow workers who walk off the job to qualify for unemployment benefits if employers lock them out of their place of employment. The proposal is strongly backed by labor unions across the state.
The proposal follows a year of notable walkouts across the country and in Washington State. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more U.S. strikes involving a thousand workers or more in 2023 than in any year since 2013.
WR testified in opposition to both bills in their House and Senate hearings. WR pointed out that Washington’s unemployment insurance system provides the highest level of unemployment benefits in the nation, and those benefits should be directed toward workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. WR reminded the House and Senate that employers pay all the costs of UI benefits and that there are many scenarios where someone may leave their position and remain eligible for UI benefits.
However, striking workers are making an affirmative decision to voluntarily leave their jobs and, under current law, are not eligible for UI benefits.
The more concerning aspect of the proposal is to “socialize” the UI benefits for striking workers. That means that the cost of UI benefits for workers striking against an individual company would be borne by all employers in Washington State. Accordingly, all employers in the state would bear the costs of labor-management disputes regardless of their origin or company that is involved.
A similar bill passed by the California Legislature was vetoed by California Governor Gavin Newsom because of the potential cost to their unemployment insurance trust fund. WR agrees with Governor Newsom – the costs and impact to Washington’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund would be dramatic and inject unpredictability in this important benefit program for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.