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Bill would disqualify benefits for some striking workers

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would disqualify striking workers from receiving unemployment benefits under certain circumstances passed through the West Virginia Senate by a 22-11 vote following much debate.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan said SB 222 clarifies that workers who voluntarily go on strike are not eligible to receive benefits while on strike. He also said it clears up language and makes a distinction between workers who are locked out as opposed to those who voluntarily go on strike.

However, Senators Mike Romano, R-Harrison, and Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, opposed the bill, saying they didn’t understand its intent.

In response, Trump said, “The intent, in my opinion and the committee’s judgment is people who voluntarily go on strike will not receive unemployment benefits while on strike. The difference is delineated in the bill that if you’re locked out by your employer, that’s different.”

Trump said that if the bill is passed, the state would save $176,000 in the next fiscal year.

Prezioso asked if and excessive number of lockouts have been a problem in the last two decades. Trump answered that it has been difficult in the past to differentiate between lockouts and those who have gone on strike.

The person seeking benefits would have a hearing at which both sides present evidence, Trump said. The burden of proof, he said, would be on the applicant for benefits to prove they were locked out.

“Who do you think this will favor,” Prezioso asked. “Will it favor the employer or person receiving the benefits?”

Trump said he thought it would be a balancing of the interests of both sides.

“You shouldn’t be able to receive unemployment benefits when the decision not to work is a decision that I as an employee chose,” Trump said.

However, Prezioso said that is the case in existing law.

“I have trouble understanding is it making it easier for those locked out to receive benefits? Will the process be expedited? I have trouble understanding this,” Prezioso said.

Trump said he didn’t think it would speed up the process or slow it down the process.

“What it makes clear is the distinction between going on strike and being locked out,” he said.

Romano also expressed concerns over the bill, saying he was “still at a loss.” Romano also said it was his understanding that a person can’t get unemployment benefits on strike under current law. He also mentioned concerns when lockouts are difficult to determine.

“In my county, I had 60 people who worked for a specialty glass company,” he said. “They worked under a contract that expired. … The company was making good profits and wanted to cut benefits drastically. They continued to work, but one day came to work and the gates were locked. Lockouts can be used to coerce employees to take less pay and benefits. …It makes them desperate to take whatever deal they’re giving you.”

Trump said that situation would be a lockout under this bill and workers would not be disqualified from benefits. However, Romano said he is concerned that it would take discretion away from the commissioner to decide on a case-by-case basis what constitutes a lockout versus a strike.

Trump said it would eliminate that discretion, but the law would clarify the definitions, saying it wouldn’t be subject to “arbitrary discretion.

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