California Must Keep Public Workers Insured When They Strike

(The Center Square) – A new law forbids any public entity in California from pulling health insurance from a worker who’s walked off the job, something critics say already is a federal protection.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that codifies organizations such as colleges and universities must keep a striking worker’s insurance active when they’re walking the picket line as long as the strike is authorized.

Assembly Bill 237, signed by Newsom on Oct. 9, makes a public entity responsible for any medical expenses incurred by a union member or those on their insurance plans should the entity “refuse to maintain and pay for continued health care or other medical coverage for an enrolled employee or their enrolled dependents, for the duration of the enrolled employee’s participation in an authorized strike.”

Assembly Member Adam Gray, D-Merced, sponsored the legislation, which passed with bipartisan support to the applause of public-sector unions.

“Strikes are a legally protected tool of last resort for workers engaged in collective bargaining,” AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said. “AB 237 will prevent public employers from subverting that lawful process by withholding previously negotiated health benefits from our families. The law makes it explicit that if any public employer cuts off health benefits during a strike, it would be would be liable to the affected employees and their family members for all of their actual health care expenses.”

Opponents of the matter said the bill addresses a non-issue. 

According to an Aug. 18 analysis of the legislation, representatives from the University of California and the California Special Districts Association said, to their knowledge, “no California public employer has ever threatened discontinuing an employee’s health coverage because that employee was participating in a strike.” 

Instead, the analysis said the law could provide an incentive to extend strike durations.

“This bill, in the representatives’ view, would remove an item from bargaining and unfairly favor one party over the other, thereby, undermining the purposes of the collective bargaining statutes and potentially resulting in longer labor stoppages and greater incommodation to the public,” it said. 

Others call it a favor to politically aligned public sector unions. 

“It’s disgusting – but hardly shocking – to see Gavin Newsom hand out taxpayer dollars to the government union leaders who have financed his political campaigns, California Policy Center President Will Swaim said. “What’s particularly evil here is that unions can now refuse to work, but we’ll still be forced to pay them.”

Swaim noted public-sector unions contributed heavily to Newsom’s campaign to defeat the September recall effort.

“Newsom is strictly pay-to-play,” he said. “Last week, he asked a federal judge to lift the vaccine mandate for the state’s prison guards. Why the prison guards? Because their union gave Newsom’s anti-recall campaign nearly $2 million. The governor does not forget his friends.”

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