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Editorial: W.Va. has bigger issues than unemployment pay for striking workers

From the Times West Virginian:

Strikes, though not nearly as common as in years past, bring hardships.

Those hardships hit workers, businesses and customers.

The discomfort over strikes in West Virginia could become greater.

State Senate Bill 222 is now being considered. It would make workers who have temporarily lost their jobs due to a strike ineligible for unemployment benefits from the state.

Sen. Ryan Weld, R- Brooke, is the lead sponsor.

Workers who go on strike and are permanently replaced at their jobs or workers who are impacted by a lockout would still receive benefits.

Senate Bill 222 was approved by the Senate Workforce Committee Wednesday. The four Democratic senators on the committee voted against advancing the bill.

It is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it was referred Thursday.

“This bill as I see it will do more harm to both the company and the employees,” Pat Maroney, general counsel for the West Virginia American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), told the Workforce Committee.

According to a West Virginia Public Broadcasting article, Maroney told the committee that the bill will create an uneven playing field during contract negotiations. Employees going without pay will pressure unions to come to an agreement more quickly. The bill, he added, will also cause businesses not to negotiate in good faith.

Weld said the bill does not take away rights.

“It doesn’t take their ability away to join a union, to engage in the negotiating process when their contract comes up. It doesn’t take away their right to fight for stronger benefits or higher wages,” he said.

However, we are concerned with the potential to put workers at a disadvantage.

West Virginia AFL-CIO President John Sword said under the current law if a worker is on strike and the company he or she works for stops production, the worker does not receive unemployment benefits. If the company brings in temporary workers, management or someone else to do the striking worker’s job, then that worker can get unemployment. Workers that are not working due to a lockout can receive unemployment, he said.

What would West Virginia gain from the bill’s passage?

A fiscal note from Workforce West Virginia says upon implementation in 2018, the state would save about $175,000 in unemployment benefit costs.

That’s in a state with so many needs and challenges — including a budget deficit in the range of $500 million.

State Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, thinks the current law works.

If workers are locked out of their work or if they are out on a bona fide strike they should receive unemployment benefits, Prezioso said.

Prezioso thinks the Legislature should be concentrating on more important things than this bill.

“Considering the magnitude of the deficit that we have now and the dire straits that we’re in, $175,000 is miniscule,” he said.

West Virginia’s government, indeed, has much bigger issues to deal with than unemployment pay for striking workers.

“Many Republicans campaign and advocate on behalf of less government, yet here we are with another example of more government interference in the relationship between employees and employers,” Sword said.

Senate Bill 222 should be quickly scrapped.



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