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Is Cuomo Turning his Back on GM Strikers?

As fast-tracked unemployment benefits passed the NYS Legislature Gov is absent on action

Kris LaGrange's picture
Sep 19, 2019

Across the country, UAW members at GM are out on strike. As they walk the picket line, many are worried about how they will pay their bills. When on strike, members only get $250 a week from the union and in many states, they can’t file for unemployment.

Union workers in New York have fought for the ability to file for unemployment. However, they must wait 7 weeks before they can qualify. Of course, most strikes don’t last 7 weeks, which limits the usefulness of this program. When strikes do go this long the waiting period forces striking workers to suffer financially. This gives the company more power over the striking workers since it makes them more likely to accept a deal that puts them back to work and lets them pay their bills.

Legislation in New York would change this. Bill A.6592/S. 4573 would decrease the wait time for unemployment benefits to kick in from 7 weeks to just 1 week. This would mean that union members could file for unemployment insurance almost immediately after going on strike. The bill passed both houses of the legislature, but it is waiting on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature. While it looks like Cuomo will sit on the bill and not sign it, UAW members in Western New York can only wait and hope that the strike doesn’t last 7 weeks.

"He should have signed it in July when we lobbied him on it," said UAW 259 President Brian Schneck. "Now we need it the most, and he can't sign it without looking like he is playing favorites towards the unions. However, if he doesn't sign it then we know he is playing favorites with GM and corporate executives. We want to know who he supports, the striking UAW members or GM's execs."

On this week’s UCOMM Live, we spoke to a local union leader about this issue. Below you can listen to our interview with JR Baker, the President of UAW Local 774, where he explains why his members really need the Governor to sign the Unemployment Insurance bill.

 

Trusted sources in Buffalo say that while other elected officials stopped by the picket line, including former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Cuomo didn’t, even though he was just miles away. The source went on to say that the members are struggling, and it will only get worse. They need this legislation signed.

As members stress about how they will pay their bills, GM has decided to stress out their employees even more. The company decided without notice to cut off all healthcare for workers that are on strike. According to UAW Local 1005 Chairman Al Tiller the company was supposed to keep the benefits until the end of the month when the UAW would take them over if the strike continues. Tiller said that they have at least one member whose child was scheduled to go in for cancer treatment this week but had to cancel it due to GM canceling their health insurance. “This isn’t a company that cares about people, this is a company that cares about the dollar,” Tiller told the Payday Report. “They don’t care about this kid with cancer and his treatment, they just want us to pay for it.”

Other UAW members reported going into surgery with health insurance, only to wake up and no longer have it. One UAW member who is waiting for a heart transplant even told Fox Business News that he is praying that the transplant doesn’t come through until the UAW’s insurance kicks in because he will have to reject it and will lose his place on the donor list.

"It's unfortunate that General Motors is using current health care benefits -- that over 47,000 GM workers and their families depend on as a way to leverage unfair concessions," Jason Kaplan, a representative for the UAW, told FOX Business in a statement on Wednesday. "This is a disappointing fork in the road for GM. Regardless, UAW will pick up the tab through our emergency strike fund."

The union spent the week racing to sign up all 49,000 members for COBRA coverage. This coverage should last them until the strike ends.

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