A bill that would provide unemployment insurance to striking workers in California passed the state Assembly on Monday and now is headed to the Senate Labor Committee and then to the Senate floor. If passed there, Senate Bill 799 would go to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature.

A similar bill passed the Assembly in 2019 but failed in the Senate by two votes.

The bill has received the backing of the Writers Guild, which has been on strike since May 2, and SAG-AFTRA, which has been striking since July 14. Strikers in New York and New Jersey are entitled to collect unemployment benefits after two weeks on the picket line, but those in California aren’t eligible because they’re considered to have left their jobs “voluntarily.”

“California is seeing an unprecedented number of striking workers who are facing significant uncertainty about the economics of their industries and changing business models,” State Sen. Anthony Portantino, who authored the bill, said today. “From writers to hotel workers and allies, they are demonstrating unity and strength while demanding respect and fair compensation. It is critical that the workers have a seat at the table to negotiate their future and the well-being of their families. A terrific group of labor advocates have worked tirelessly on this effort and deserve our appreciation.”

SB 799, he said, “will help workers 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. We look forward to getting this bill on the governor’s desk.”

Speaking at a rally last week in support of the bill, WGA West President Meredith Stiehm said: “If you lose your job or get laid off, you can apply for unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, we can’t do that. People on strike can’t do that in California. They can in New York. Our sister union in the East is able to do that. And so, it’s something that we need to catch up to, and it’s something that would have helped us if we had it in place before now.”

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SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Joely Fisher, who like Stiehm testified recently in Sacramento for the bill’s passage, told picketers last week: “Our survival should not depend on the whims and fragile egos of would-be dictators. And providing a lifeline for striking workers in the form of unemployment insurance helps to level the playing field in a small way. Withholding our labor from exploitive employers is our right, and we shouldn’t have to court financial ruin to exercise that right. If companies can only get workers to return to their jobs by starving them into submission, then something is very wrong with their business model.”

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