(WHTM) — A bill in the Pennsylvania State House would give workers on strike access to unemployment benefits, but many lawmakers are not supporting this.
The bill passed the committee on a party-line vote. Sponsors said this is about strengthening workers’ rights, but some lawmakers worry it gives them too much power.
“Workers have rights, they should be able to access them,” said Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny County), one of the bill’s sponsors.
Miller is sponsoring the bill with fellow Allegheny County Democrat Rep. Mandy Steele.
“What we’re looking to do is find ways to strengthen opportunities for worker’s voices to be heard,” he said.
The bill would make workers on strike eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
“We felt it was more important to give workers a stronger tool in the toolbox for them to use if and when the worst-case scenario comes up. If and when a strike has to occur, that they could still be able to pay their bills a little bit,” Miller said.
The bill faced strong Republican opposition in committee, with some lawmakers raising concerns about funding.
“We are now going to be extending new benefits and we don’t yet have a way to pay for that,” Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh County) said.
Miller said workers already pay into the unemployment system with part of their paychecks, so funding should not be a problem.
miller “What we’re doing is we’re giving them access to their money,” he said.
How do the workers this bill impacts feel?
“I’m all for that bill,” said Victor Martinez, who works for the Local UAW 677 chapter.
The UAW 677 chapter is representing Mack Trucks workers on strike in Dauphin County.
“Well I think a bill like that will kind of give us the upper hand plus we’ll be able to take care of our families,” Martinez said.
He added this will give workers more leverage in negotiations.
“With the unemployment, we could be at basically our full rate, so that would advise the company, well we need to get back to the bargaining table,” he said.
However, some lawmakers feel that is an unfair advantage.
“Unions will feel emboldened to extend strikes to the detriment of taxpayers and communities,” said Rep. Joseph D’Orsie (R-York County).
Lawmakers say that will hurt the negotiating process.
“If we’re paying people to stay home, we’re eliminating the need for them to even want to come to the table,” said Rep. David Rowe (R-Mifflin, Juniata, Union, Snyder).
Miller said workers today already start at a disadvantage, and this bill is about leveling the field.
“What we have seen over my lifetime has been this growth of these corporate anti-union lawyers that have made exercising labor rights more and more difficult for American workers to do. So what we are trying to do is rebalance a pendulum here,” he said.
abc27 asked Miller if he was concerned about his bill’s future given the Republican opposition. He said he is confident Democrats will support it and hopes some Republicans will cross party lines.
A floor vote has not been scheduled for the bill in the House.