Striking Pittsburgh news workers got several shoutouts from Democrat Western Pennsylvania state representatives and labor leaders who gathered in Harrisburg Wednesday afternoon before a vote on House Bill 1481 to make locked-out and on-strike workers in Pennsylvania eligible for unemployment compensation.
The bill was co-sponsored by Democrats Rep. Dan Miller of Mt. Lebanon and Rep. Mandy Steele of Fox Chapel. She noted that inspiration for the bill came in part from workers who have been on strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for more than a year “and they’re still holding strong.”
Those workers had to fight for unemployment compensation, which is paid for by workers and employers, but under this bill, which passed 106-97 and now goes on to the state Senate, workers who are locked out will be immediately eligible for unemployment compensation and workers who go on strike will be eligible as soon as 30 days later.
“These are public benefits that should be there for workers when they take the extraordinary step of going on strike. They need support just like any other worker,” said Steele, who noted that her own family with four young children once was on strike for nine months. She called the bill “a critical piece of legislation that levels the playing field during a strike.”
Miller, who’s been working on such issues for years, said companies, which not only don’t pay the workers but also can stop their benefits, have over time gained an unfair balance in negotiating with workers.
“Our attempt here is to rebalance that scale,” he said before the vote for the bill, which he said had a long list of Democratic supporters whom he named.
In voicing his support of the bill, Steve Catanese, president of SEIU Local 668, also held up the Post-Gazette strikers as an example, and said of making such workers eligible for unemployment compensation, “It’s not a windfall, it’s a safety net.”
State Rep. Jason Dawkins, D-Philadelphia, who chairs the House Labor and Industry Committee, said, “These issues spill over into our communities. … Workers who are unemployed due to work stoppage should not be denied the ability to provide for their families and pay for their basic necessities.”
You can watch the pre-vote news conference at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NsqdgM-jtI.
Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at email@example.com.