As Hollywood Strikes, Sen. John Fetterman Introduces Food Stamps Bill for Workers on Picket Line

The legislation would repeal a restriction on striking workers receiving SNAP benefits.

Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) exits the Senate Chamber during a vote, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, July 20, 2023. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., exits the Senate Chamber during a vote, U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on July 20, 2023. Photo: Graeme Sloan/Sipa

With more than 150,000 actors and writers on the picket line in Hollywood and other labor actions heating up across the country, Sen. John Fetterman, D-Penn., is introducing legislation to ease the financial toll of their strikes. 

The Food Secure Strikers Act of 2023 would repeal a restriction on striking workers receiving SNAP benefits, protect food stamp eligibility for public-sector workers fired for striking, and clarify that any income-eligible household can receive SNAP benefits even if a member of that household is on strike. 

“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,” Fetterman wrote in a statement. “As Chair of the Nutrition Subcommittee and an advocate for the union way of life, this bill is just plain common sense. 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.” 

When workers strike during the course of contract negotiations, they often go without pay. While union strike funds sometimes provide workers with a stipend, it comes in far below their standard salary. Under current legislation, workers on the picket line are ineligible for SNAP benefits unless they collected food stamps prior to going on strike. 

“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,” Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien said. “Congress should never pass laws that punish American workers, and hopefully this amendment is a repudiation of that practice.”

O’Brien spent the summer training UPS workers for a strike that would have paralyzed ground and air transport across the country.  This week, the Teamsters reached a tentative, no-strike deal with UPS, after months of negotiations over entry-level wages, increased air conditioning in delivery trucks, and a rewrite of the company’s overtime system. The United Auto Workers have mirrored the Teamsters’ militant stance, blasting CEOs ahead of their own contract negotiations slated for later this year. 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 writers’ demands include protections from artificial intelligence encroaching on union jobs, base pay rate increases, residual pay increases, and higher staffing requirements. 

Disney CEO Bob Iger is one of the highest-profile critics of the striking writers, cracking jokes to shareholders about AI replacing the workers, who he has said are “being unrealistic.” 

Iger has previously faced criticism over poor compensation and benefits for Disney’s 30,000 workers. A study by the Economic Roundtable, a California nonprofit that researches social welfare and public policy, dug into poverty among Iger’s Disneyland employees and uncovered an overwhelming need for food stamps. Three quarters of Disneyland employees can’t afford rent, food, and gas, according to the study: “Among Disneyland Resort employees with children who pay for child care, 80% say they cannot make ends meet at the end of the month, 79% are food insecure, and 25% say that they are unlikely to be able to pay for housing that month.”

As Deadline reported earlier this month, studio executives are hoping they can use housing insecurity as a cudgel to crush the union’s demands. “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” an anonymous studio executive told the entertainment publication. 

Fetterman, in a statement to The Intercept, blasted the executives pillorying workers fighting for fair wages. “As the CEOs of some of the biggest Hollywood companies are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars per year, they have the nerve to say that workers who are standing up for better pay and conditions aren’t being ‘realistic,’” he said. “To me, the only people who aren’t being realistic are the executives that think they can keep ripping their workers off. I support the writers, producers, and all workers on strike across the media industry, and I hope they receive the contract they deserve from management soon.” 

His legislation has already garnered significant Democratic support, with Reps. Alma Adams of North Carolina and Greg Casar of Texas co-sponsoring the bill in the House. In the upper chamber, Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith of Minnesota, Alex Padilla of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Peter Welch of Vermont, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. have signed on.

“We are in a historic moment for worker power,” Booker said in a statement, “and we must remain united in our support of workers’ well-being as they continue to fight for better conditions.”

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