The Connecticut Senate put down a marker Wednesday on the concept of providing unemployment benefits to strikers, passing a bill likely to die without coming to a vote in the House before the session ends on May 4.
Organized labor’s priorities lay elsewhere: passage of a measure giving certain retail and food workers protections against late schedule changes and another freeing workers from so-called “captive audience” meetings called by employers.
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the Democratic majority is planning to caucus and get hard vote counts on those two priority bills, signs of a commitment to attempt passage of the latest versions of bills filed in past sessions.
The strikers bill? Until called for debate in the Senate, it was not on the radar of many key players at the state Capitol, including Gov. Ned Lamont, who acknowledged having never heard of it.
“I guess let me take a look at the bill, first of all,” Lamont said, when asked about the bill. “I think it sounds pretty novel.”
It’s unusual, but not novel. Neighboring New York is one of the few states offering jobless benefits for strikers.
Senate Bill 317 would make striking workers in Connecticut eligible for unemployment benefits after two weeks on the picket line. Its effective date was twice pushed back in amendments offered to make it more palatable, finally landing on July 1, 2024.
Passage came on a 19-13 vote, with four absences. When all 36 senators are voting, 19 is the bare majority. The roll call machine stayed open while some Democrats counted to see if their votes were necessary to reach a symbolic 19.
The 12 Republicans present and Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, voted no.
Controversial, novel or complex measures typically take multiple legislative sessions to ripen and become ready for a serious effort at passage.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, declined to write off the chances of the bill passing in the House in its first year on the legislative vine.
But, she conceded, “It’s new.”
One after another, Republicans rose in the Senate to denounce the bill on several grounds: It would be government tipping the scales in labor-management relations in a state struggling for economic growth, and it would further burden an overburdened unemployment fund.
Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, called the measure “absurd on its face.”
“It’s a bill that’s going to impact jobs in a state where job growth is very, very bad,” said Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford. “We can do better than that. We must be better than that. … Bills like this are the reason why we’re not doing better than that.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the bill is a matter of fairness, offering a degree of leverage to workers.
“The workers are our neighbors, our friends,” Duff said. “That’s who we’re trying to protect.”
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said strikes of more than two weeks’ duration are relatively rare, and he found laughable the suggestion the measure would upend the balance of power between employer and employee.
“That’s a fiction,” Looney said. “Workers and employers generally never are equal in bargaining power. The scales always tilt on the side of the employer, who has greater resources.”