WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrats U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown are on Wednesday introducing legislation that would penalize employers who target the health care insurance of striking and locked-out workers.
The legislation, called the Striking and Locked Out Workers Healthcare Protection Act, would create a separate unfair labor practices category for instances in which employers cut off or change the health care insurance of workers involved in a labor dispute. Employers violating the law would be subject to monetary penalties.
“Protecting the right to strike means protecting workers from unfair strike-breaking tactics,” said Deluzio, who represents Pennsylvania’s District 17. “No company should be able to hold a worker’s health — or the well-being of their family — hostage during a labor dispute.”
That’s what happened to striking workers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he said. Deluzio noted that Block Communications Inc., owner of the PG, stripped away the health care of those workers shortly after the strike began in October. Health care is central to the labor dispute. BCI triggered the strike by refusing to pay an extra $19 a week per employee premium increase for the newspaper’s production, advertising and distribution workers. That move effectively ended the worker’s health care.
Deluzio said he stood in solidarity with the striking PG workers battling for better working conditions “even as they have been cut off from their healthcare by Block Communications.”
“By leveling the power dynamics between workers and companies,” he added, “this bill makes clear that stripping striking workers of health insurance is out of bounds.”
A number of other companies involved in labor disputes the past few years have cut off health care coverage for striking and locked-out workers.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quickly moved to cancel the health care of journalists who launched a strike in November of last year.
Early in 2022, union workers who make ice cream cakes at a plant in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., lost their health care in the midst of a strike over wages, health care and working conditions. And in 2019, General Motors stopped paying health care costs for tens of thousands of workers involved in a nationwide United Auto Workers strike.
Brown pointed out that strikes are a last resort for workers wanting to reach fair labor agreements, and that strikers almost never recover the wages lost during the dispute. The legislation he and Deluzio are introducing “would give workers the peace of mind that if they’re backed into a corner, they can stand up to corporate abuse, without the fear of losing their families’ health insurance,” Brown said.
He also was co-sponsor to a similar bill with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in March of last year.
Joining Brown and Deluzio and Casey in sponsoring this legislation is Congresswoman Susan Wild, who represents Pennsylvania’s 7th District.
Employers found in violation of the new unfair labor practice standard the bill creates would be subject to monetary penalties that reflect the company’s size, its history of violations, the scope of harm, and the public interest.
A number of labor organizations have stepped up to support the legislation. The list includes the Communications Workers of America, United Steelworkers, United Mine Workers of America and American Federation of Teachers.
Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild, which represents striking newsroom workers at the Post-Gazette, announced his support for the legislation.
“Some of our members suffer from chronic health issues,” he said, “and it’s essential they remain protected while engaging in a strike to hold their own employer to account.”
Deluzio has consistently demonstrated his support for striking PG workers. In his first speech from the House floor, he acknowledged the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh’s sweeping victory in a National Labor Relations Board ruling and voiced concerns about the purchase of Pittsburgh City Paper by a subsidiary of BCI.
In February, Deluzio sent a letter to President Joe Biden’s Justice Department, asking officials there to examine the acquisition. And he invited striking PG mailer James “Hutchie” VanLandingham to Washington D.C., to be his guest for Biden’s State of the Union address.
Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.