Will non-striking workers get unemployment if plants shut down? It depends

Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

Unemployment agencies in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri say they’re preparing for what may be an uptick in unemployment claims as the ripple effects of the United Auto Workers strike lead to layoffs in other plants and among suppliers.

On the first day of the targeted strikes at Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Stellantis plants in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, secondary effects were already beginning to work their way through the supply chain. Ford announced Friday afternoon that it would temporarily lay off 600 workers at the company’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.

Striking individuals, who are largely ineligible for unemployment in Michigan and elsewhere, are likely to dip into the UAW's roughly $800 million strike fund. Workers who are laid off as a result of the strike, however, are likely to look to the state for unemployment aid.

Depending on the duration and reach of the strike, unemployment agencies could face their first real test — albeit on a smaller scale — since a tidal wave of claims and fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic hobbled jobless agencies across the country.

Michigan, which has traditionally struggled to keep up with sudden swings in unemployment, said it has worked to modernize its unemployment agency in the years since the onset of the pandemic to make the filing process simpler and the software handling the claims more reliable and user-friendly.

The state’s UIA Trust Fund has a balance of about $2.3 billion. During the pandemic, the balance in the fund dropped from about $4.6 billion to $937 million but has since been built back up.

“The UIA is well-positioned with new resources for workers and staff flexibility to make timely eligibility decisions,” said Nick Assendelft, a spokesman for the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.

But the individuals who are eligible for benefits vary from state to state and may depend on specific strike circumstances that led to an individual’s unemployment.

Generally, under Michigan law, individuals participating in a strike do not qualify for unemployment benefits. However, other individuals affected by the strike, such as those laid off due to a lack of work resulting from the strike, may be eligible, Assendelft said.


However, Ford spokesperson Jessica Enoch said Friday that the laid-off workers from the Wayne plant aren’t eligible for unemployment.

Michigan’s current laws allow an unemployed individual to receive up $362 per week and collect that amount for up to 20 weeks per year.

In Ohio, striking workers and, at times, other non-striking workers at the striking company are not eligible to receive unemployment, said Dasia Clemente, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services.

“If a company without striking employees must lay employees off due to lack of work, those workers may be eligible for unemployment, depending on the specific facts and circumstances,” Clemente said. “Because a claim determination is tied directly to its specific circumstances, anyone who believes they are eligible may apply, and their case will be determined accordingly.”

In Ohio, unemployment typically is half of the claimant’s previous wage with a maximum cap. Individuals are eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment, Clemente said.

In Missouri, striking workers are ineligible for jobless aid as are non-striking workers who are part of the same bargaining unit, “which will be the case for at least one of the local UAW chapters,” said Maura Browning, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Labor.

“However, employees who work for companies that provide parts/components for use at the GM plant and elect to lay off staff as a result of the strike generally would be eligible, provided the workers have sufficient wage credits to be an insured worker and meet all other eligibility criteria,” Browning said.

Missouri’s unemployment is set at a maximum of $320 per week for a total of 20 weeks a year.

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