On October 9, 2021, the Governor signed AB 237 which makes it an unfair practice for an employer to discontinue its health insurance premium contribution for a striking employee. AB 237 covers any “authorized strike” which is defined as a strike sanctioned by the relevant central labor council or the membership of the union representing the striking employees. So a wildcat strike is not covered. Where there is a sanctioned strike, AB 237 requires the employer to treat the striking employees as if they are working for purposes of any contributions towards health care or other medical coverage.
- As I previously wrote, most public employers have rules that an employee needs to be on some form of paid status for a certain number of days in a month to receive the employer’s contribution towards any health insurance premiums. Thus, the timing and/or duration of a strike could cause an employee to forfeit the employer’s contribution in a given month. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with an employer enforcing such an established rule. But AB 237 now prohibits such a rule for striking employees.
- Extended strikes are rare in the California public sector. Most strikes are 1 to 5 days and seldom do they affect an employee’s entitlement to health insurance. So this new law will have little practical effect. However, I still think it’s bad public policy because a strike, by definition, means that you are not working; therefore you should not expect to get pay and/or benefits for the time you are not working. I don’t think employers should intentionally cut off the health insurance of striking employees—that would be an unfair practice even under existing law—but I don’t think employees on strike should receive benefits that are intended for those at work.
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