Newsom Vetoes Bill to Pay Unemployment Benefits to Workers on Strike

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Newsom Vetoes Bill to Pay Unemployment Benefits to Workers on Strike

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference in Universal City, Calif., on June 15, 2021. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

10/2/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Striking workers will not get unemployment checks in California after Gov. Gavin Newsom—citing the state’s depleted unemployment fund—vetoed legislation Sept. 30 that would have allowed it.
The measure—Senate (SB) Bill 799—was reintroduced Sept. 7 by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank), in an effort, he said, to shorten strikes and get people back to work.
The bill was similar to an Assembly bill introduced in 2019, which failed by five votes in the state Senate.
Several unions in the Golden State, including Hollywood writers and actors, conducted months-long strikes this year as contract negotiations failed.
In a veto message, the governor said he appreciated and respected workers who fight for their rights, but the state’s unemployment fund was already deeply in debt.
“Any expansion of eligibility for [unemployment] benefits could increase California’s outstanding federal [unemployment] debt projected to be nearly $20 billion by the end of the year and could ... significantly [increase] taxes on employers,” Mr. Newsom said in his veto letter.
SAG-AFTRA actors and Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers walk the picket line during their ongoing strike outside Paramount Studios in Los Angeles on Aug. 2, 2023. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

SAG-AFTRA actors and Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers walk the picket line during their ongoing strike outside Paramount Studios in Los Angeles on Aug. 2, 2023. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Mr. Portantino (D-Burbank) said he was “disappointed” by the veto Saturday.
“I am disappointed in the Governor’s veto of SB 799,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “The labor unrest & 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 law in [California].”
If the governor had signed the bill it would also have codified case law that employees who left work due to a lockout by their employer, even if it was in anticipation of a trade dispute, would be eligible for benefits.
Lindsay Dougherty, union vice president for the Teamsters’ western region, called the governor’s Saturday veto action “spineless.”
“On the heels of a summer of strikes, where workers are being pushed out by employers who find it OK to starve them out, this is another disgrace by [Gavin Newsom],” Ms. Dougherty said on X. “Striking workers deserve [unemployment] benefits [because] they earned it.”
The California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber) led a coalition of more than 110 businesses, associations, and local chambers of commerce to urge the governor to veto the bill.
Ray Utarnachitt, a captain in the Writers Guild of America West, pickets with others at an entrance to Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles on May 2, 2023. (Chris Pizzello/AP Photo)

Ray Utarnachitt, a captain in the Writers Guild of America West, pickets with others at an entrance to Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles on May 2, 2023. (Chris Pizzello/AP Photo)

The statewide business organization argued that a new mandate to pay striking workers unemployment benefits would have added about $215 million to the state’s unemployment fund, CalChamber asserted.
“We applaud Governor Newsom for his swift and sure decision on SB 799,” CalChamber’s President Jennifer Barrera, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website Oct. 2. “He correctly saw that we simply cannot afford to add a new program and new costs this year.”
Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Rocklin) said it was “great to see” the bill vetoed.
“Workers who go on strike shouldn’t receive unemployment,” he said on X Oct. 1.
During the senate floor discussion Sept. 14, before the bill passed, Mr. Dahle said unemployment benefits were not for people who go on strike.
During the senate floor discussion Sept. 14, before the bill passed 27-12 with one senator not voting, Mr. Dahle said unemployment benefits were not for people who go on strike.
The bill passed days earlier in the Assembly on a 59-18 vote with three members abstaining.
Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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