Unemployment insurance programs are meant to help people who become jobless through no fault of their own. Nearly every state has disallowed benefits to employees who are on strike. Even New York, the most union-friendly state, pays unemployment benefits to strikers only in rare instances when they have been out of work for at least eight weeks.

That could soon change. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy last August signed a bill making union strikers eligible for unemployment benefits after only 30 days. The measure was largely symbolic, as more than 80% of major strikes last year ended before hitting the one-month mark.

But on May 1, New York’s state Senate voted to let strikers get benefits one week after walking off the job—essentially putting them on equal footing with those who are laid off.

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs this bill, he’ll effectively be using New York’s unemployment-insurance program to subsidize union strikes, upending the balance of power between workers and management.

Employers, who fund the unemployment-insurance program through premiums would pick up the cost, which is only likely to go up. In New York City alone, hospital nurses, school bus drivers and preschool teachers have all teetered on the brink of striking in the past two months, and subsidizing an activity tends to produce more of it.

And that subsidy itself would get bigger in the next few years. New York is already increasing unemployment benefits, scrapping its $450-a-week cap in favor of a formula set to rise each year until 2026, when recipients will get up to 50% of the state’s average weekly wage, which is currently about $1,401.

All this would save unions a big chunk of money. Many unions provide members with strike benefits to make up for lost wages, and the costs can be high. During 2016, which saw the union mount a six-week strike against Verizon, the Communications Workers of America paid members $28 million from its $400 million dedicated strike fund. U.S. labor unions have paid out more than $149 million in strike benefits in just the past three years, federal records show.

Letting strikers collect unemployment benefits would relieve unions of much of those costs, freeing money up for other purposes—such as campaign contributions.

For now, the effort to tap unemployment insurance as a union strike fund is confined to New York. But the worst ideas hatched in Albany rarely remain there.

© 2019 Wall Street Journal

Original publication

Tags:

About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

The Fear Behind City Union’s Strike Threat

Polling this month showed that two-thirds of the nation’s teachers would prefer to stay out of the classroom this fall, and teachers unions across America are poised to keep schools from reopening. The unions say the safety of their members is their top concern, yet, truth is, their bottom lines are just as critical. That’s because the pandemic represents their biggest financial threat since teachers won the right to stop paying them. Read More

Blame unions for New York’s pricey giveaway to Amazon

The state-city deal to bring one of Amazon’s two new headquarters to Long Island City might at least have provided New York City with another big benefit—a much-needed model of advanced, efficient building practices. After all, Amazon isn’t just a big corporation: It’s widely admired as a global leader in technological innovation. Instead, it appears the deal will ensure that Amazon is saddled with the same arcane and outmoded construction-union work rules and compensation levels that have saddled New York City with the nation’s highest urban construction costs. Read More

Cuomo’s doomed pro-union tricks

This week’s US Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME was not unexpected — and neither was the agitated, high-volume reaction from Gov. Cuomo and the public-sector union bosses who are his strongest political allies. Read More

After Janus, what now? What the Supreme Court’s major labor decision means for New York

What does the Janus ruling mean for the fiscal future of the Empire State, home of the country’s most unionized public sector? It depends, as always, on our elected officials. Read More

Governor’s Next Giveaway to NY’s Public Unions?

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed a bill making it harder for government workers to escape labor unions, he said it was just “the first step of the resistance.” Translation: It wasn’t the last favor Cuomo hopes to do for New York’s powerful public-sector unions in anticipation of the coming US Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which could void state laws compelling government workers to pay dues-like agency fees to unions they choose not to join. Read More

NY unions scrambling to lock up members before the Supreme Court gives them choice

A ruling for Janus would be a win for workers, forcing unions to focus more on treating their members like paying customers — and less on squeezing taxpayers. Read More

Janus case high stakes for public employee unions

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in Janus v. AFSCME, a constitutional challenge to the dues-like union fees many state and local government workers must now pay. The outcome could shake the foundations of public-sector union power across the nation—especially in New York. Read More

NY’s disability pension gambit

New York City’s pension costs will reach nearly $8.8 billion in the coming 2016 fiscal year — more than double the 2006 level and nearly eight times the 2001 amount. Yet now, with a week to go in the state legislative session, Albany is poised to drive those costs even higher. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.