An Oregon House of Representatives committee will hold a public hearing on Friday regarding a bill that extends unemployment benefits for up to an additional six months for workers who have been locked out — such as at ATI Albany Operations, the former Oremet plant.
About 180 workers have been on the picket line along 34th Avenue since mid-August, and their unemployment benefits are set to expire Feb. 15, after six months of being locked out.
“This lockout has created serious financial stress on many families, especially in the Albany area,” wrote state Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany), one of the primary sponsors of the bill, in a Wednesday email.
The bill has strong bipartisan support, said State Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), another primary sponsor. He said that locked-out workers are put in a state of “limbo.”
“Locked-out workers are folks who want to work, who would work if they could, but the employer has chosen to remove them from the workplace during the labor negotiation,” Rayfield said.
It’s extremely difficult for locked-out workers to find new jobs, even if they want to switch careers. Other employers aren’t interested in hiring locked-out workers, as they believe those workers will return to their original jobs if the lockout ends, Rayfield said.
“No matter how good you look on a resume, they don’t want to gamble,” said Ken Larrabee, a locked-out ATI worker who was protesting on 34th Avenue on Thursday. “A lot of the big-time employers around here, they won’t touch us.”
The past few months have been hard for workers on the picket line, said Ron Davis, another locked-out ATI worker.
“I know people have put their homes on the market. … Vehicles, homes, everything. My daughter can’t get her braces now because of this,” he added.
“The company is pretty much banking on us running out of our benefits,” Davis said.
And once that happened, ATI would try to get workers to agree to a new contract, locked-out employees said.
Contract talks stalled last year because of reductions to health care benefits, changes to pensions and work rules. The lockout impacts roughly 2,200 workers at 12 facilities throughout the country.
While the United Steelworkers union and ATI have returned to the negotiating table, local ATI workers hadn’t heard of any progress.
“It looks like it’s still going to be a while,” Davis said.
An ATI spokesman was not available for comment on Thursday afternoon.
House Bill 4086 is set for a public hearing and possible work session on Friday before the House Committee on Business and Labor.
From there is will go to the Committee on Ways and Means, and it should be before the House and Senate for votes in late February.
The bill would take effect on its passage due to an emergency clause.
State Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) also is a primary sponsor of the bill.
Kyle Odegard can be reached at email@example.com, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.