Bill to OK benefits during lockouts advances

Vic Vela
Posted

Unemployment benefits for workers who are locked out from their jobs during labor disputes would be expanded under a bill that is moving through the Legislature.

House Bill 1304 allows workers the ability to collect jobless benefits when they are involved in so-called “defensive” lockouts — where companies lock out employees who are part of a union that is already striking against another business entity in the same industry.

The last time a defensive lockout occurred was in 1996, when Safeway workers were locked out after their union decided to strike against King Soopers.

Unemployment benefits already are available to workers who are involved in an “offensive” lockout, a tactic that can be used by a company to gain leverage against a union when contract negotiations break down.

Former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed similar legislation in 2009.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House on April 22 on a party-line vote of 37-27, with one Republican member excused.

Democratic Rep. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, the bill’s sponsor, argued during a recent debate on the House floor that companies are the ones making the decision to lock out their employees, and that it’s only fair that their workers receive security when they’re not allowed to come

to work.

“What we’re saying is if you lock out your workers, if it’s not the fault of your employees, than they’re entitled to unemployment benefits,” Moreno said.

Democrats also argued that Colorado is behind the rest of the nation on this issue, saying that 38 other states allow unemployment benefits for locked-out workers.

But Republicans argue that by allowing workers in these situations to receive jobless benefits, labor unions would have the upper hand in negotiations.

Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, said the bill “would create another burden” for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. He also said that the bill adversely affects businesses that must pay into that fund.

“This is just another example of overreach that puts a target on businesses, when we should be encouraging business growth,” Swalm said.

The bill now heads to the Senate.