As hundreds of thousands of workers strike across the country in a summer marked by increased labor activity, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) has introduced a bill that would allow workers on strike to access government food assistance and make it easier for workers to exercise their labor rights.
The Food Secure Strikers Act of 2023, introduced onThursday, would repeal a Ronald-Reagan era provision of federal law that excludes striking workers from qualifying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, despite the fact that many workers are not paid during a strike.
It would also allow SNAP coverage for people in otherwise eligible households in which a member of the household is on strike, and provide benefits for public workers who are fired for going on strike, who often fall under a category of having “voluntarily quit,” rendering them ineligible for SNAP.
In a statement, Fetterman called the legislation “just plain common sense.”
“Every union worker who is walking the picket line this summer needs to know that we have their back here in Washington,” he said. “The union way of life is sacred. It’s what built Pennsylvania and this nation. It is critical for us to protect workers’ right to organize, and that includes making sure they and their families have the resources to support themselves while on strike.”
Representatives Alma Adams (D-North Carolina) and Greg Casar (D-Texas) introduced the bill in the House.
“We need to get rid of the anti-union provisions in our code that starve striking workers,” Casar said. “We’re seeing workers exercise their rights across the country by going on strike to demand better wages and working conditions. That’s why our bill, the Food Secure Strikers Act, is more important now than ever.”
Workers are not paid during a strike. Sometimes, unions can provide support to workers using strike funds, but they are rarely enough to supplement the loss of income from a strike. As labor advocates have pointed out, this means that workers can sometimes be forced to choose between exercising their right to strike for better working conditions or being able to put food on the table.
Strikes can go on for weeks or months, often creating financial strain for workers. In February, coal miners in Alabama ended a strike that lasted nearly two years, with most workers being forced to take other jobs during the strike. Film and television writers in the Writers Guild of America have been on strike since May, and studio executives have essentially admitted that their tactic is to make writers lose their homes and starve them out before they return to the bargaining table.
Fetterman’s legislation, which is cosponsored by 13 senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), would tip the scales ever-so-slightly in favor of workers, who are currently at a major disadvantage in labor disputes due to the U.S.’s extremely employer-friendly labor laws.
The bill has been endorsed by a number of labor unions and anti-hunger groups.
“It’s good to see lawmakers attempting to correct the wrongs of the past by reinstating a benefit for striking workers that never should have been taken away in the first place,” said Teamsters President Sean O’Brien. “Congress should never pass laws that punish American workers and hopefully this amendment is a repudiation of that practice.”
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