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NJ to provide workers health care during labor disputes.

3 months ago
Chris Ferrari
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Full Credit: By Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

A bill approved by the state Assembly on Thursday would create a special fund to pay for continued health care coverage for New Jersey’s private-sector workers if they’re kept out of work by a labor dispute.

That fund would be supported by an annual, 5 cent-per-worker fee paid by all New Jersey businesses that are subject to the state’s unemployment compensation rules.

Under the proposal (A1056), a Working Family Health Security Fund within the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development would assist workers at risk of losing health care covering during a lockout. They would be eligible for money from the fund to pay COBRA coverage if their health insurance is canceled because of a labor dispute work stoppage that’s not preceded by a strike.

“No one should be at risk of being forced into suffocating debt because of a lack of health insurance, especially if their insurance was discontinued due to a work stoppage,” Assemblywoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth, said in a statement.

That employer would be responsible for reimbursing the fund for the cost of the COBRA insurance.

he non-partisan state Office of Legislative Service estimated the per-person fee would generate about $228,000 a year for the fund, though the bill allows employers to take a year off from paying the charge if the fund’s balance exceeds $5 million.

The state Legislature has taken action previously to protect workers during labor disputes, including a law passed last year allowing striking workers to collect unemployment benefits.

Supporters said that law would create an even playing field for workers.

Under that law, employees can file for unemployment insurance in labor disputes when an employer violates the terms of an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. And striking workers would be eligible after a 30‐day waiting period if the dispute isn’t prompted by an employer’s failure to comply with contract terms.

That law followed a pair of high-profile strikes, first by Verizon workers protesting the communications giant’s contract demands, and then by Trump Taj Mahal casino and hotel employees fighting over benefits in Atlantic City.

Samantha Marcus may be reached at smarcus@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter@samanthamarcus. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

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