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Vitale, Gopal Bill to Address Unemployment Compensation in Labor Disputes Advances

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Labor Committee Vice Chair Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Vin Gopal thatwould permit individuals who are unemployed due to a labor dispute to collect unemployment compensation under certain circumstances was approved today by the Senate Labor Committee.   

The bill, S-1046 would allow unemployment compensation during a work stoppage if a labordispute was caused by the failure of an employer to comply with an agreement or existing labor laws and specifies that if a dispute is caused by any other reason, unemployment compensation would not be available for the first 30 days of unemployment.  The bill outlines that a waiting period would not apply if the employer hires a permanent replacement worker and that any hired replacement workers would be presumed to be permanent unless the employer certifies in writing that the unemployed individual would be able to return to their position when the labor dispute ends.

“It’s been long recognized that workers’ rights are human rights and that it is just and fair to uphold workers as they struggle to better their working conditions, compensation and benefits,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex).  “After experiencing twice in the last few years what can go wrong during major strikes, this bill provides the framework needed to protect New Jersey’s workers from financial hardship during strikes, lockouts and other work stoppages.”

“Workers’ rights is a strong thread woven through the fabric of our national values.  But there are gaps in our handling of unemployment during labor disputes that leave workers vulnerable to mistreatment and loss wages,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth).  “This bill provides clear guidelines for resolving payment and benefits issues.”

The bill requires that if the employer does not permit the individual to return to work, he or she would be entitled to recover back pay for any benefits lost as a result of the 30-day waiting period.  The Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development would be permitted to impose a penalty on the employer of up to $750 per week in which the employee would otherwise have been eligible to receive benefits.  The collected funds would be paid into the unemployment compensation auxiliary fund.

This bill represents a major Democratic legislative priority and had passed both the Senate and General Assembly during the Christie administration only to be conditionally vetoed by the governor.  If enacted during this session, it would take effect immediately and apply to claims for unemployment commencing on or after July 1, 2018.  

With today’s 3-1 vote, the bill advances to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.