The California Senate voted on Thursday to grant unemployment benefits to workers who are on strike. The bill passed with a 27-12 vote.
The Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA have each expressed support for the bill. If approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the bill would take effect on Jan. 1.
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Dozens of unions have lined up in support of the bill, while the California Chamber of Commerce and more than 130 business groups have expressed opposition.
Only New York and New Jersey currently extend unemployment benefits to workers on strike. The California bill, authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino, would grant benefits once a strike has lasted at least two weeks.
“Let’s inject a modicum of stability into the conversation,” Portantino, a Democrat, said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “When somebody goes on strike, it’s not a romantic thing… It’s hard to go through it.”
Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican, argued that the bill would essentially require businesses that pay into the unemployment system to subsidize labor actions.
“This is the most crazy thing I have ever seen,” he said. “This is a labor dispute, not an unemployment dispute… This is a horrible bill. This is a bad idea.”
The opponents have also argued that unemployment is designed for workers who lose their jobs, not those who are withholding their labor as a bargaining strategy. The Chamber has suggested that the bill may conflict with federal law, which requires that claimants are “able to work, available to work, and actively seeking work.”
Joely Fisher, the secretary-treasurer of SAG-AFTRA, spoke in favor of the bill at a rally at Paramount on Wednesday. She said she was offended by the argument that unemployment is intended only for those who are willing to work.
“I am ready, willing and able to work,” Fisher said. “I am desperate to work.”
The bill passed through the state Assembly on Monday on a vote of 59-18. Newsom has not indicated whether he will sign the legislation.
Newsom was asked about the bill in an interview with Politico on Tuesday. While he did not take a position, he did note that the state’s unemployment insurance program already owes $18 billion to the federal government.
“One has to be cautious about that before you enter into a conversation about expanding its utilization,” he said.
A similar bill failed in the state Senate in 2019, falling two votes short of passage.
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