Lawmakers consider benefits for locked-out workers | NevadaAppeal.com

Lawmakers consider benefits for locked-out workers

JOE MULLIN
Associated Press Writer
AFL-CIO lobbyist Danny Thompson testifies Friday at the Legislature. Thompson urged lawmakers to support a measure that would allow workers who are locked out by their employers during labor disputes to collect unemployment benefits. Cathleen Allison/ Nevada Appeal
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The AFL-CIO and other unions pushed Friday for a bill that would ensure Nevada workers can collect unemployment benefits during lockouts.

The bill stems from a six-week-long lockout early last year involving about 650 workers at a Merck drug distribution facility in Henderson, said Danny Thompson, head of the Nevada AFL-CIO.

The state Division of Employment Insurance denied the workers’ applications for unemployment benefits, saying that locked-out workers were involved in a “labor dispute” and that made them ineligible, Thompson said.

The unprecedented ruling left the workers with nowhere to turn since federal law prevents them from tapping into union strike funds, Thompson said in urging the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee to pass AB494, which would clarify that locked-out workers can collect unemployment benefits.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly last month on a mostly party-line 28-14 vote, with all but one Republican voting against the bill. Republicans control the Senate by a narrow 11-10 margin.

“You have to think of the repercussions for these families,” said Pat Sanderson, a lobbyist for the Laborers International Union. “If you lock these people out for a long time, they wind up losing their homes, their vehicles, and their way to make a living.”

Lockouts occur when employers prevent workers from returning to work, sometimes as a tactic to put on pressure during negotiations. That’s what happened at Merck’s Henderson facility, said Thompson.

George Ross, a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, opposed the bill, saying that labor law and unemployment law should be kept apart. Lawmakers shouldn’t disrupt the balance of power between labor and management, which has worked well for working people and the economy as a whole, he said.

“We have one of the most thriving economies in the country,” said Ross. “We also have probably the strongest, most effective labor movement. That’s something very different than the rest of the country.”

Bob Ostrovsky, representing the Nevada Resort Association, a group of the state’s major hotel-casinos, took no position on the bill but pointed out that both strikes and lockouts are enormously powerful.

“These are terrible decisions that have to be made,” said Ostrovsky. “They have huge implications for employers, customers, investors, and the health of your business.”

Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, who also is a waitress and union activist, said that unlike striking workers, locked out workers have no choice in the matter.

“I’ve been part of a couple of strike votes,” said Carlton. “That’s my choice. But when the employer uses (a lockout) as a tool in a negotiation, that’s where I think it’s wrong. I view lockouts as part of that economic warfare.”