As multiple work stoppages continued across the United States, Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania on Thursday introduced legislation that would enable striking workers to qualify for federal food aid.
Called the Food Secure Strikers Act of 2023, Fetterman’s bill would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to ensure that striking workers aren’t excluded from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In addition, the bill would preserve food stamp eligibility for public sector workers who are fired for striking and clarify that any income-eligible household is entitled to SNAP benefits even if a member of that household is on strike.
“We need to get rid of the anti-union provisions in our code that starve striking workers.”
“Every union worker who is walking the picket line this summer needs to know that we have their back here in Washington,” Fetterman said in a statement. “The union way of life is sacred. It’s what built Pennsylvania and this nation. It is critical for us to protect workers’ right to organize, and that includes making sure they and their families have the resources to support themselves while on strike.”
“As chair of the Nutrition Subcommittee and an advocate for the union way of life, this bill is just plain common sense,” he added. “I’m proud to introduce this bill that will eliminate the need for workers to choose between fighting for fair working conditions and putting food on the table for their families.”
Workers typically forgo pay when they exercise their right to walk off the job in pursuit of higher wages and better conditions. Although union strike funds sometimes provide workers on the picket line with a stipend, it is less than their regular income.
Under existing law, striking workers and their households are ineligible to receive SNAP benefits unless they already qualified for food stamps prior to withholding their labor. This gives employers significant leverage over employees who can only endure economic hardship for so long. By repealing the current restriction on striking workers securing SNAP benefits, Fetterman’s bill would help restore some balance to the struggle between capital and labor.
“It’s good to see lawmakers attempting to correct the wrongs of the past by reinstating a benefit for striking workers that never should have been taken away in the first place,” said International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Sean O’Brien. “Congress should never pass laws that punish American workers and hopefully this amendment is a repudiation of that practice.”
O’Brien spent the past several weeks preparing 340,000 United Parcel Service (UPS) warehouse workers and delivery drivers for what would have been the second-largest work stoppage at a single employer in U.S. history, trailing only a 1970 strike of 400,000 General Motors workers. Although a UPS strike has likely been averted after the logistics giant and the Teamsters reached a tentative five-year contract agreement on Tuesday, Fetterman’s proposal comes amid a nationwide wave of ongoing and potential labor actions.
“The United Auto Workers have mirrored the Teamsters’ militant stance, blasting CEOs ahead of their own contract negotiations slated for later this year,” The Intercept reported Thursday. “And the truckers union has staged trainings in dozens of cities for a strike that could shut down shipping from coast to coast. In California, meanwhile, thousands of hotel workers organized with Unite Here are already on strike, along with tens of thousands of Hollywood writers and actors belonging to the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA, respectively.”
The walkout of 160,000 writers and actors, who are fighting for improved remuneration and attempting to safeguard unionized jobs threatened by artificial intelligence-induced automation, is perhaps the most well-known of the current strikes.
“It’s good to see lawmakers attempting to correct the wrongs of the past by reinstating a benefit for striking workers that never should have been taken away.”
Earlier this month, an anonymous studio executive admitted to Deadline that “the endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” drawing widespread condemnation, including from star actor Ron Perlman.
The Food Secure Strikers Act is designed to counteract the delay tactics that bosses rely on to crush workers.
“Workers who make the difficult decision to go on strike are coming together to lift the standard of living and gain more respect for all working people,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association (NEA). “They are prepared to make sacrifices—but going hungry should not be one of them. The Food Secure Strikers Act of 2023 will help ensure that when striking workers stand in solidarity for better working conditions and wages they can receive SNAP benefits so they don’t put themselves and their families at risk.”
The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 10 Senate Democrats, including Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.). A companion bill was unveiled in the House by Democratic Reps. Alma Adams (N.C.) and Greg Casar (Texas).
It is also endorsed by numerous unions and anti-hunger organizations, including the Teamsters, NEA, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the Food Research Action Center, and Hunger-Free America.
“We need to get rid of the anti-union provisions in our code that starve striking workers,” said Casar. “We’re seeing workers exercise their rights across the country by going on strike to demand better wages and working conditions. That’s why our bill, the Food Secure Strikers Act, is more important now than ever. We need to stop starving strikers, and ensure all working families are able to make ends meet.”