CO House Reapproves Workers’ Benefit Bill

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Denver, CO—The Colorado House of Representatives has reapproved a bill which will allow workers in labor disputes to collect unemployment, even when they have been locked out of work.

Supporters of the bill, HB 1170, say that this measure reinstates labor laws that had been in effect before a 1999 law, which was passed by a largely Republican legislature, and which made striking workers ineligible for unemployment benefits during a lockout.

The measure’s opponents include business groups, who worry that this move will set a bad precedent by allowing people who are not technically out of work collect benefits meant for those who are unemployed. It is also feared that this new bill could put a strain on the unemployment system, tapping an already limited supply of funds.

Additionally, some fear that it could pave the way for more labor disputes, and give workers added incentive to strike or to resist deals with management that are meant to avoid lockout situations.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Edward Casso, D-Commerce City. It was not debated in the House, but passed by a relatively narrow margin of only 36-29.

It now heads to Governor Bill Ritter’s office for approval. The governor, a Democrat, has not yet taken a position on the bill, but he does have a record of vetoing pro-union legislation.

The 1999 law was in response to a Safeway employee lockout which occurred in 1996. At that time, 3,500 workers who were shut out by management after supporting fellow grocery workers at the King Soopers chain, qualified for unemployment benefits. Republican control of the legislature and governor’s office enabled lawmakers to outlaw these benefits.

Opponents of the bill say that this is a particularly bad time, given the recession and already high unemployment rates, for the state’s unemployment insurance coffers to be drained.

In March, the bill was amended by a Senate committee, in order to make it effective beginning July 1st. That vote enabled it to coincide with contract expirations which are currently being negotiated between workers and grocery stores. Because of the amendment, the bill had to go back to the House to be reapproved.

 

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