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Unemployment benefit bill for strikers gets Washington House committee approval

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(The Center Square) – The Washington state House Appropriations Committee has passed a proposed bill that would allow workers in Washington state to receive unemployment insurance during strikes.

Proposed House Bill 1893 would remove the prohibition against receiving unemployment insurance benefits for workers participating in a strike.

Currently, a worker is disqualified from receiving benefits if he or she is unemployed because of a strike.

If benefits are not charged to any employer, those costs are socialized and shared evenly by all employers participating in the unemployment insurance system.

The current maximum weekly unemployment insurance benefit amount is $1,019, according to HB 1893.

If the bill is signed into law, benefits would be paid out of the unemployment insurance trust fund as opposed to the actual company that the striking employees work for. However, those costs would be shared evenly by all employers participating in the system.

At Monday’s House Appropriations Committee meeting Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said that workers go on strike as “an action of last resort” and that “many of them are in very tentative [and] precarious financial positions when they take this action of last resort.”

Rep Chris Corry, R-Yakima, agreed that there should be a tentative balance between workers and employers, but said that the bill would tip the balance in favor of striking workers.

“It doesn’t take long before this does have an impact not only on the [unemployment insurance trust fund], but on rates paid by employers and employees across the state,” Corry said. “Therefore, we don’t think this is the right policy.”

According to the bill’s fiscal note, Washington state could potentially see an increase of unemployment insurance claims ranging from 812 to 3,000 additional claims a year. This translates into an increase of $9.8 million to $14.1 million in annual payout of benefits that currently sit around $120 million a year.

The note also found that the state denied an average of 2,313 claims per year due to a labor dispute.

According to the Cornell University Labor Action Tracker, thousands of workers went on strike in one of 26 labor actions in Washington in 2023.

The proposed bill is similar to a bill in California that Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed last October, as previously reported by The Center Square. That bill would have allowed striking workers to collect unemployment benefits, which in California are funded by employers.

Newsom’s reasoning for vetoing the bill was that any expansion of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits could increase the state’s outstanding federal unemployment insurance debt that was projected to be nearly $20 billion by the end of 2023. It could also jeopardize California’s Benefit Cost Ratio add-on waiver application, significantly increasing taxes on employers.

House Bill 1893 has been referred to the Rules Committee for review.

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