When workers go on strike in protest of working conditions or to put pressure on an employer during contract negotiations, they typically do not expect to be paid their regular wages. But may workers on strike collect unemployment insurance (UI) benefits? In general, striking workers are not eligible for unemployment. But there are some instances where employees who are not working due to a dispute with their employer may collect benefits.
See What is Collective Bargaining? and Eligibility for Unemployment Compensation Benefits for more information about unions and jobless benefits.
Work Stoppage and Unemployment: Basics
Most states do not allow workers on strike to collect unemployment benefits. However, if you are a member of a union that is currently on strike and you do not participate in the strike, you may still collect benefits if you happen to lose your job during the strike. If you are barred from collecting unemployment benefits during the strike, you will become eligible either after the work stoppage ends or if your unemployment is unrelated to the strike. Some states disqualify striking workers from UI benefits for a set period of time, regardless of how quickly the strike ends.
If there is a lag time between when the strike ends and when the employer resumes operations, you may be eligible to collect UI benefits during this period. It generally depends on the nature of the delay, and in particular, which party is responsible. If the delay was directly caused by the strike, such as in cases where equipment was damaged (even if you were not personally responsible), then you may be ineligible.
Additionally, if your workplace has to temporarily shut down because of a work stoppage or labor disruption at another location controlled by your employer, you likely will remain eligible for benefits. A few states, including Texas and Michigan, do not allow this.
Some states allow workers to collect UI benefits if there is a work stoppage resulting from an employer-initiated lockout. Massachusetts law provides one example:
"In addition to the foregoing, an employee shall not be denied benefits as the result of an employer's lockout, whether or not there is a stoppage of work, if such employees are ready, willing and able to work under the terms and conditions of the existing or expired contract…"
Also, workers in some states may remain eligible for UI benefits if the strike is triggered by the employer's violation of either an active collective bargaining agreement; the rules established by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA); state and/or federal wage and hour laws; health and safety regulations; or collective bargaining rights.
Are You Entitled to Unemployment Benefits? Talk to an Attorney Today
Striking workers need answers to many questions about their rights and the protections that are available to them, but the facts of a particular situation and the local laws make a huge difference. A lawyer can help sort out many issues, and alert you to issues you didn't even think to raise. Contact a local employment law attorney to learn how they can help with these and other employment disputes.