Effective February 6, 2020, New York employees who are out of work due to a labor dispute, such as a strike, are eligible to collect unemployment benefits after a waiting period of only 14 days. Under existing law, which will not change, employees who are out of work as a result of a lockout or who are permanently replaced may be entitled to collect unemployment benefits even earlier.

Background

On February 6, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Senate Bill 7310 into law, which amends New York Labor Law § 592 to reduce the length of the suspension period applicable to certain striking workers who seek to obtain unemployment insurance benefits.

Historically, workers in New York State have been able to collect unemployment benefits during a strike. Workers who were out of work due to a strike, however, were required to wait until after the expiration of a seven-week suspension period before they could apply for unemployment benefits. After the seven-week suspension period expired, workers had an additional waiting period of one week—standard for all unemployment insurance claimants. Thus, workers out on strike would not receive unemployment benefits for a minimum of eight weeks after a strike commenced.

The purpose of the seven-week suspension period was to avoid state intervention in private-sector labor disputes, and to reduce the drain on state resources caused by the financing of labor strikes. Further, the delay acted as a strike deterrent—reducing the risk of arbitrary work stoppages and encouraging labor unions and employers to resolve their conflicts quickly and efficiently.

Now, under the new law, workers who are out of work due to a strike are only required to abide by a two-week suspension period before applying for unemployment benefits. Significantly, the reduced benefit suspension period applies regardless of whether the strike or other concerted activity is authorized by the employees’ collective bargaining representative, and regardless of whether the concerted activity violates an existing collective bargaining agreement.

Under existing law, those workers who are locked out or permanently replaced need only wait the standard one-week waiting period for all unemployment claims before they become eligible for unemployment benefits. If a striking worker applies for unemployment benefits and the Department of Labor determines there is a lockout or if permanent replacement workers are hired during the 14-day suspension period, that employee’s claim will be activated early and will likewise only be subject to the one-week waiting period.

Practical Implications

The new law favors organized labor. New York State has the second-highest union density in the country, with approximately 21% of wage and salary workers belonging to a union. The suspension period reduction effectively decreases the financial impact of these workers’ decision to strike, and increases the likelihood that unions may initiate and/or prolong labor strikes in order to create leverage during contract negotiations.