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California is considering offering unemployment to workers on strike as the Hollywood writers walkout approaches its 4th month

A group of people holding signs related to the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strike.
California is home to the largest strike in the country right now. About 160,000 members of the SAG-AFTRA union have walked out.Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
  • California is considering a bill that would give striking workers access to unemployment benefits.

  • Labor experts say it would improve workers' outcomes and stimulate the economy.

  • The proposal comes as California faces the SAG-AFTRA strike, the largest ongoing action in the country.

In California, there is no shortage of labor organizing these days.

About 160,000 SAG-AFTRA members have been on strike for more than a month, and another 11,500 Writers Guild of America members have been on strike for almost four months now.

There were another 12 other active strikes in the state during July, making California the most active state for labor actions that month, according to the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations Labor Action Tracker.

One of the biggest tensions when a union decides to walk out is how long their striking members can survive without a paycheck. But that problem could be less of one if some California lawmakers get their way.

Legislators are now considering a bill that would make any striking workers in the state eligible for unemployment benefits if their action lasts more than two weeks.

If it passes, it would make California the third state in the nation to adopt such a policy, following in the footsteps of New York and New Jersey. Meanwhile, Connecticut and Massachusetts are also considering similar bills.

Labor experts say the bill could mark a turning point for workers in California.

"It will very much be a pro-labor statement at a time in a year when so many Californians have gone on strike and are hurting," Steven Greenhouse, former New York Times labor reporter and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told Insider. "This will certainly be a boon to them and in ways might help stimulate the California economy by putting more money in people's pockets."

According to the bill, striking workers would be eligible for payments of up to $450 per week. New York now offers striking workers up to $504 a week, while New Jersey offers up to $830 a week.

New Jersey expanded its law in April, decreasing the waiting period for striking workers before benefits kick in from 30 to 14 days.

Striking workers having access to unemployment benefits would also benefit the larger community in California, according to Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

"We have to remember the long-term costs of strikes — not just to workers, but the rest of the community," Bronfenbrenner told Insider. "When workers are on strike, they don't have money to make purchases, they're not shopping, they're late on their rents and their mortgage payments. So it's good for the community for workers to get unemployment too."

Robert Moutrie, a policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce, however, called the proposal "irresponsible" and said it would burden employers throughout the state.

"California's UI system is already $18 billion in debt," Moutrie wrote in a statement earlier this month. "Adding more costs to an insolvent system will extend the tax increases already underway from COVID-19."

Still, Bronfenbrenner said she expects this bill to face less opposition in light of California's recent strikes.

"Public support for the current labor struggles has been extremely high," Bronfenbrenner said. "I think there's going to be less opposition to this kind of legislation because the public understands that these workers are going to strike the same issues that they're concerned about in their workplace."

Read the original article on Business Insider