Newsom Vetoes Bill Giving Unemployment Benefits to Workers on Strike

Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill giving unemployment benefits to striking workers, which was backed by the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA. “Now is not the time to increase costs or incur this sizable debt,” he wrote in his veto message Saturday.

Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D-Burbank), who had sponsored the bill, was disappointed by the veto. “The labor unrest and concern we all witnessed this summer earned the Legislature’s action to pass unemployment benefits for striking workers. The need continues and so will efforts to make this the law in California. The hardworking women and men in California need to put food on their table and pay their rent. SB 799 would have injected a small piece of security to working families that is needed and deserved,” he said in a statement.

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The California Legislature had passed the bill, SB 799, on Sept. 14. The bill was supported by labor groups and opposed by business interests, including the California Chamber Commerce.

Supporters argued that it would provide needed stability to workers who were on strike, and that the lack of unemployment benefits creates an uneven playing field between business and labor.

With an effective date of Jan. 1, 2024, the bill would have applied to workers who have been on strike for at least two weeks. Currently only New York and New Jersey provide unemployment to striking workers.

The Hollywood unions held a rally in support of the measure on Sept. 7 to support the measure. Meredith Stiehm, the president of WGA West, also traveled to Sacramento to lobby in support of the bill.

“Four months without work is emotionally brutal and financially disastrous,” Stiehm said at the rally. “The companies of course know this and have preyed upon our members’ economic insecurity and personal anxiety.”

Opponents argued that the state’s unemployment benefit program is already deeply in debt, still owing $18 billion to the federal government due to the pandemic.

Newsom signaled he was concerned about adding new burdens on the program in an interview with Politico on Sept. 12.

“One has to be cautious about that before you enter into a conversation about expanding its utilization,” he said.

Opponents also argued that unemployment is meant only for workers who get laid off, not those who are withholding their labor as a negotiating tactic.

Joely Fisher, the secretary-treasurer of SAG-AFTRA, also visited Sacramento to push for the bill. At a SAG-AFTRA rally on Sept. 13, she said she was offended by that argument.

“I am ready, willing and able to work,” she said. “I am desperate to work.”

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