In May, the Writers Guild of America walked out over issues of streaming residuals and the use of artificial intelligence as a replacement for human writers. On Sept. 15, the United Auto Workers union captured headlines by striking over wages and benefits at the three largest domestic auto manufacturers.
This year, workers in the education, public health, transportation industries, and more have picketed and protested for better working conditions. But for those on strike, lost wages and benefits can seriously hamper their personal finances. Read on to learn about how striking workers can bolster their budget during a labor dispute.
Some large labor unions establish strike funds, in recognition of the financial hardship that workers bear during a strike. These funds can help workers who are no longer getting a paycheck to receive at least some income during a strike. Understanding your access to a strike fund is an important first step in managing your finances during a strike.
Some unions, such as the United Auto Workers, offer striking workers a stipend while strike funds last. However, this amount is typically much less than regular wages, and only lasts until the fund is completely exhausted. In the case of UAW, striking workers can expect to receive $500 per week, which the fund can support for about 11 weeks, if all members of the union go on strike.
Other labor organizations, such as the Writers Guild of America West, offer striking workers one-time loans to help cover their expenses. In the case of the WGAW, striking workers can apply for a zero interest loan of up to $7,000. Strike fund rules vary from organization to organization, so it is important to contact a union representative to understand what benefits you are eligible for, and how to claim them.
Striking workers may be eligible for other stop-gap measures during a labor dispute. Part-time work may offer some income, if few other benefits, while strikers are out of work elsewhere. However, it is important that union members understand their options — and don’t step afoul of union rules.
For prolonged strikes, where a strike fund stipend may not be enough or is quickly depleted, workers often need to find some way to fund their expenses. Part-time work is an option for some workers in the middle of drawn-out negotiations. And while workers should not expect the same rate, benefits, or hours offered at their previous employer, even a small amount of earnings can help balance cash flows in the short term.
There is a huge caveat: Many unions and labor organizations restrict members when it comes to finding alternative employment during a strike. For some, members simply cannot work in the same or similar industries, while other unions prohibit outside employment altogether. Failure to abide by these rules can have severe consequences, so be sure to understand your employment options before picking up additional work.
Striking workers are often in a vulnerable position financially, but there are government and nonprofit programs that can offer some support. Few states offer unemployment benefits to workers, but those who live in New York, New Jersey, and California may be eligible. Meanwhile, workers may have access to Medicaid or discounted coverage on their insurance exchange, depending on state rules.
Additionally, using community services may be a good option for striking workers to temporarily support themselves and their families. Local food banks can relieve striking workers and their families of high grocery bills amid sky-high inflation. Meanwhile, some municipalities offer payment assistance for low-income Americans on costs like electricity and water bills.
Negotiations between labor unions and employers put out-of-work employees in a tight spot financially. To make up for lost income, striking workers should understand their strike fund benefits, their ability to work part time, and the local programs and services that are available to them. Walkouts can be challenging for workers and their families, but asking the right questions can help them weather the storm.
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