Colorado considers jobless benefits during lockouts
DENVER, Colorado A state House committee took up a contentious proposal Wednesday that would let workers collect unemployment compensation if their employers lock them out in a labor dispute.Supporters told the Business Affairs & Labor Committee that current Colorado law which allows workers to collect unemployment only if the lockout is a bargaining tactic gives too much power to business owners.Opponents said changing the law would encourage “whipsaw” strikes, where a walkout against one company can be used to win concessions from several. They also said the change would force companies statewide to subsidize strikers because all employers pay into the fund that provides unemployment benefits.After four hours of testimony, the committee delayed action until next week.Rep. Edward Casso, D-Thornton, said the current law punishes “people who worked hard and played by the rules.””But right now, if their employer chooses to lock them out during these negotiations, if they show up to go to work and there is a padlock on the door and they’re greeted by an armed guard with a restraining order, they can’t draw upon the unemployment insurance safety net to tide them over until these particular issues are resolved,” Casso told the committee.Colorado allowed workers to collect unemployment during lockouts until 1999, when the law was changed to say no benefits would be paid if a lockout was “defensive,” to prevent vandalism or other problems.Labor officials say that made it virtually impossible for locked-out workers to get benefits because it’s easy for companies to claim a defensive lockout and difficult for unions to disprove them.James Hautzinger, representing the King Soopers grocery chain, told lawmakers this is a bad time to roll back the 1999 change because his company and Safeway the state’s largest grocery chains will soon be in contract negotiations.Hautzinger said that in 1996, when King Soopers employees went on strike and Safeway workers were locked out, the state paid about $5 million in unemployment compensation to 3,500 workers.He said if law is changed before the grocery contracts expire at the end of April, “there is every reason to think there’s a heightened chance of a labor dispute occurring just as it did in 1996 when the same language was on the books.”He said that would be costly to workers and employers and disruptive to the public.Chuck Carillo told lawmakers he was a Safeway employee who was locked out in 1996 and found he and his family of five could barely survive, even with unemployment benefits.Carillo said he never returned to work and found another job.”I didn’t want to go through that again,” Carillo said.
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