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California lawmakers ended their session Thursday with a flurry of legislation, including a bill that would allow striking workers to collect unemployment.

The bill, strongly supported by labor unions, but opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, would allow striking workers to collect unemployment benefits after being on strike for two weeks.

Senate Bill 799, authored by Sen. Anthony J. Portantino, D-Burbank, was approved by the Senate Thursday and now heads to the governor.

A California bill that would provide unemployment insurance to striking workers came amid the context of months’ long writers’ and actors’ strikes.

Bloomberg News

The California Chamber joined with 50 other opponents in opposition to the bill saying it will exacerbate the state’s existing problems with its Unemployment Insurance Fund.

The California Labor Federation sponsored the bill that is jointly authored by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo ,D-Los Angeles, and Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena.  

“Today, the Legislature responded to this rare moment in time when workers from many different business segments are striking for their future livelihood,” Portantino said. “From writers and actors to nurses and public workers, we see significant unrest and concern in the workforce across the state.”

Passage of the bill “sends a strong message to the women and men on strike that we recognize the impact that strikes have on a family’s ability to pay rent and put food on a table,” Portantino said.

The Chamber added the bill to its “job killer” list in August citing the proposal’s requirement for employers to subsidize striking workers through additional taxes paid to the Unemployment Insurance fund.

Forcing employers to pay unemployment insurance payments to striking workers would raise taxes on employers across California and overturn more than 70 years of precedent, CalChamber Policy Advocate Robert Moutrie said in a statement.

The months-long entertainment industry strikes hit one of Los Angeles’ most significant economic drivers. The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation estimated in an Aug. 14 memo that the industry directly accounted for 10.9% or $90.6 billion of the county’s $824.4 billion economy in 2021, the most recent gross county product numbers available.

On May 2, the 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike, joined in July 14 by the 160,000-member performer’s union, SAG-AFTRA, after the collapse of negotiations with the studios, including Walt Disney Co., Netflix, Amazon Studios and Warner Bros. Discovery.

In August, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass had indicated progress was being made, also noting the strike was having “profoundly negative impacts on our economy and many of our community members.”

Participants had hoped to resolve the matter before Labor Day, but it continues.

“The impact has spanned every corner of Los Angeles — from the writers and actors on the picket line trying to make ends meet to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, to businesses who rely on the entertainment industry,” Bass said. “It is critical that this gets resolved immediately so that Los Angeles gets back on track.”

The last major writers’ strike lasted three months, from November 2007 to February 2008, according to the LAEDC. The last actors’ strike occurred in 1980. The strike represents the first dual shutdown in 63 years; not since 1960 have both actors and writers been on strike at the same time, and it is only the second time ever in Hollywood history, according to the memo.

Opponents of SB799 wrote in an opposition letter to Portantino saying it would worsen California’s ongoing Unemployment Insurance fund crisis.

Currently, California’s UI fund is in historic debt of $18 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government mandated shutdowns, according to the memo. To address the insolvency, California employers are already paying increased UI taxes pursuant to federal law and are likely to face ongoing tax increases until approximately 2032, the memo states.

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