Can Laid Off Union Workers Collect Unemployment

The availability of a union member is determined in the same manner as any other claimant, using the principles outlined in the Sanchez v. CUIAB case:

“Availability for work” within the meaning of section 1253, subdivision (c), requires no more than (1) that an individual claimant be willing to accept suitable work which he has no good cause for refusing and (2) that the claimant thereby make himself available to a substantial field of employment.”

The court went on to say that the burden of establishing “good cause” for any restriction on availability rests with the claimant, and the burden of determining whether the claimant is available to a substantial field of employment rests with the Department.

Most situations involving the availability of a union member will be covered in the section of this volume that deals with the reason for the restriction, i.e., attendance at school. This section discusses only those availability situations that are exclusive to union membership.

New York is the only state that offers unemployment benefits to striking workers. If you live in New York and your union declares a strike, you’re eligible for benefits after 49 days.

Union navigator and related programs work well in other areas

Navigator programs, as well as related programs with strong union and worker center involvement, have been successful in improving access to public benefits. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), for example, established navigator programs to help consumers understand basic health insurance terms and apply for coverage and financial assistance through the marketplaces.34 Millions of consumers benefit from these assistance programs every year, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.35 Another study found that receiving help with enrollment from a navigator is the strongest predictor of enrollment in Medicaid or marketplace coverage.36 Navigator programs have also been successful in helping individuals submit applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)37 and connecting community college students to benefits, thus encouraging degree persistence.38

Unions have played a role in the success of these navigator programs. In California, for example, unions helped raise awareness of the ACA and assisted with benefits sign-up for tens of thousands of people.39

Other programs that involve unions and worker centers in benefits delivery and navigation have also had positive results. For example, worker centers work closely with New York’s Black Car Fund to ensure that independent contractor limo and delivery drivers have access to workers’ compensation benefits as well as additional benefits, such as vision, telemedicine, and assistance in applying for Medicaid health insurance.40 In Oregon, the state Department of Administrative Services is partnering with local unions on a training program to increase state employee understanding of its retirement and health benefit plans and how to use them.41 In this program, training partnership representatives help workers, including union members and nonmembers, navigate the state retirement and health benefits system to choose the appropriate plans for their situation, which participants believe will lead to savings for both workers and the state.

Relatedly, compliance and enforcement of employment laws have been shown to improve as a result of government partnerships with worker organizations.42 The ability of unions and worker centers to understand industries, reach out to workers, educate them on the law, gain their trust, and help protect them from retaliation has been important for improving enforcement efforts.

Union involvement has also proven beneficial when it comes to workforce training. Experience suggests that trainings, such as apprenticeships, that are jointly run by unions and management are typically of higher quality and lead to higher-paying jobs than training programs that do not involve unions.43 The publicly supported joint labor-management training program for home care workers in Washington state, for example, provides opportunities for career progression within the field and uses certifications to prevent untrained workers from eroding industry standards.44 Today, Washington has some of the highest-quality long-term health care services and supports in the country.45

In short, navigator and other similar initiatives that involve unions and worker centers work well for many benefit programs, suggesting that extending the concept to unemployment insurance would be successful.

Several countries in northern Europe, including Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium, provide worker organizations a formalized role in administering unemployment benefits—an arrangement known as the Ghent system.46 In Belgium, for example, the government is responsible for funding the unemployment insurance system, but labor unions receive money to help deliver the benefits. Workers are not required to be union members to receive benefits, but many choose to sign up through the unions because they make it easier to navigate the bureaucracy and receive benefits. Research suggests that insurance recipiency rates are higher in Ghent countries than in other European countries. One study from 2005 found that 85 percent of unemployed people in Denmark and Sweden collected unemployment insurance, compared with only 20 percent of jobless workers in the United Kingdom and 47 percent of jobless workers in Germany.47

In turn, the Ghent system provides labor unions with an opportunity to recruit and retain members. It is notable that union membership is particularly high and stable in countries that use a Ghent UI system.48 Cross-sectional analyses estimate that the Ghent system boosts union density in those countries by nearly 20 percentage points compared with non-Ghent countries.49 Europe’s experience with UI suggests that allowing workers’ organizations or unions to help run UI programs on behalf of the government strengthens unions and, in turn, boosts workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages and benefits.

Experts such as law professor Matthew Dimick, a leading scholar on the Ghent system;50 organizations like the Center for American Progress and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth;51 and elected officials, including Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA),52 have discussed adapting elements of the Ghent system to the United States.

Layoffs and Federal Law

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) dictates that most employers with 100 or more employees need to give no less than 60 calendar days of advance notice before conducting mass layoffs or facility closings.

The Role of Union Layoff Rules

WARN is designed to ensure that workers have time to transition to new jobs or obtain the training they need to make such career changes successfully. Different workers rights organizations have distinct union layoff rules that might still protect their members even if the WARN regulations dont kick in.

Collective bargaining agreements (CBA) can vary widely by the industry and union. Common CBA layoff clauses may include:

  • Recall clauses where employers have to rehire laid-off workers once they get past the rough patches that forced the initial layoffs
  • “Bump” clauses where people who might get laid off get to take other less-senior positions instead
  • “Super seniority” clauses that ensure union officials get laid off last and recalled first so that someones always around to protect worker rights and uphold a CBA
  • “Seniority plus” clauses that force employers to consider other qualifying factors, such as job training or certifications, in addition to worker seniority
  • Some CBAs completely prohibit layoffs. Many also forbid practices like laying off union employees and giving their jobs to non-union laborers or subcontractors. In some cases, a CBA might also give workers who face layoffs alternative options, such as:

  • Switching to part-time status
  • Receiving new job training
  • Reducing their hours
  • If I’m working reduced hours, can I collect unemployment?


    Do unions lead to unemployment?

    Union strength, which reflects both union coverage and the union wage differential, is found to decrease em- ployment and increase unemployment by a small but significant amount.

    What disqualifies you from unemployment in California?

    “An individual is disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits if the director finds that he or she left his or her most recent work voluntarily without good cause or that he or she has been discharged for misconduct connected with his or her most recent work.”

    What is the relationship between labor unions and unemployment?

    Just as access to unemployment benefits supports workplace collective action and unionization, unions also help workers exercise their legal rights—including applying for and receiving unemployment benefits.

    How hard is it to get fired from a union job?

    Union Workers’ Job Security

    Since non-union workers are typically hired “at will” and without a union contract behind them, they can be fired for no particular reason. Workers with union jobs can only be terminated for “just cause,” and the misconduct must be serious enough to merit such action.

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