Thanks to a recent bill signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on February 6, 2020, striking employees in the State of New York must now only wait fourteen days until they are eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Senate Bill 7310 amends New York Labor Law § 592, reducing the waiting period for unemployment benefit eligibility for striking employees from seven weeks to two weeks.
Employers would likely presume that employees who are on strike would not be eligible for unemployment benefits since they fail to meet a key prerequisite for unemployment benefits eligibility in most jurisdictions: the willingness to work. However, New York is one of a few states that chooses to lessen the economic impact on striking employees by providing them with unemployment benefits after a specified waiting period. New York Courts have previously noted that the seven-week waiting period for unemployment eligibility was part of the “State’s long established policy of standing aside for a time from labor disputes to avoid the imputation that a strike may be financed through unemployment insurance benefits.” Drassenower v. Levine, 48 A.D.2d 957, 958 (1975).
New York’s choice to lessen the waiting period marks a shift in this long-established policy and undoubtedly shifts the balance of power between employers and their employees who are striking or who may be contemplating striking. Certainly, one of the key factors that employees consider is the immediate financial impact that will result from striking, i.e., not receiving wages from their employer. With this passage of this new law reducing the waiting period, the financial impact on striking employees is lessened significantly. Since the financial impact on employees is now greatly reduced in the State of New York, we are likely to see more workers decide to go on strike to gain greater leverage during collective bargaining negotiations.