Striking workers would be eligible for unemployment benefits after two weeks off the job under a bill passed along party lines after a lengthy debate Wednesday in the Connecticut Senate.
The bill was one of several controversial proposals to come out of the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee during this session. It would allow employees to qualify for unemployment after two consecutive weeks on strike.
Majority Democrats amended the bill twice during a multi-hour debate Wednesday afternoon, delaying its effective date until 2024. The bill passed on a 19 to 13 vote with Bridgeport Democrat Dennis Bradley joining Republicans in opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff framed the bill and others advanced by the progressive labor panel as a matter of fairness.
“Workers are our neighbors, our friends. We go into the stores and we say, ‘Hello,’ and we know their names and we know their children,” Duff said. “That’s who we’re trying to protect. Those are the ones who we want to make sure, if they do strike they have a little bit of a sense of evenness and fairness for them so that they can bargain in good faith.”
However, Duff’s comments came near the end of a long and often one-sided debate in which Republican lawmakers contended the bill was both hostile to businesses and counter to the objective of the unemployment insurance program.
“This policy before us is representative or even symbolic of just how far the majority party has gone when it comes to making labor policy in the state of Connecticut,” Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Southington, said.
“It seems fundamentally wrong,” Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, said later. “Striking workers choose to leave the workforce and because they are striking, they are not readily available to work. That is one of the tenets of being able to collect unemployment — you have to be ready to go back to work and they’re not because they’re on strike.”
It was unclear Wednesday whether the bill would continue to advance through the legislative process in the remaining three weeks of the session.
During a press briefing earlier in the day, House leaders told reporters they intended to meet with their members and gauge their support for two other high-profile labor bills. One such policy is a prohibition on “captive audience” meetings, long sought by union leaders. Another, called the “fair work week” bill, would ensure that some larger employers provide steady work schedules to employees.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont seemed reluctant to weigh in on the bill after speaking at a labor event in Bushnell park Wednesday afternoon.
“Let me take a look at the bill, first of all. I think it sounds pretty novel,” Lamont said after addressing members of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Local 326. He declined to comment on the bill’s basic concept. “I don’t do knee-jerk reactions. Let me take a look at the bill.”
Although most of Wednesday’s floor debate centered on problems with the legislation, Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said it was worth debating because there were workers in Connecticut who could not afford to bargain for fair benefits.
“Look, I recognize that people have different perspectives on this,” Winfield said. “I think that we should also recognize that there is a real, valid reason why this discussion should be entertained — why we should be thinking about this whether we ultimately pass it through this chamber and the chamber downstairs is a different question but I think that there is a real reason why this is a conversation that we engage.”