State measure would ease financial burden on locked-out workers

HARRISBURG, Feb. 11 – Pennsylvania state legislators are making a bid to assist hundreds of workers idled by Allegheny Technologies Inc.’s six-month lockout who are about to see their unemployment benefits expire.

Reps. Frank Dermody and Joe Petrarca this week teamed up to introduce a bill that would provide financial help to workers who were locked out of their jobs and have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits.

"Workers and their families are in severe financial distress after being locked out of their jobs for half a year," Dermody said. “These workers helped make ATI what it is today. They take pride in the work they do and they want to get back to doing it. Until that happens, we need to help them weather the crisis.”

The bill (H.B. 1857) introduced by Dermody and Petrarca would provide temporary unemployment benefits to any Pennsylvania workers who see regular unemployment benefits expire after being locked out of their jobs.

Only unemployed workers affected by a lockout would be eligible and the state Department of Labor and Industry reports the locked-out ATI employees are the only ones in Pennsylvania currently affected.

“Hundreds of people would rather be working, but instead they are about to lose unemployment benefits through no fault of their own,” Petrarca said.

“Their families are suffering along with them, as well as all the local businesses that depend on the daily spending generated by these workers’ wages. The state needs to step in with temporary benefits while the lockout continues," he said.

Since August ATI has idled hundreds of highly skilled union workers across western Pennsylvania, including at its Brackenridge facility in Dermody’s district and the company’s Vandergrift facility in Petrarca’s district. The workers' health-care benefits expired in November and their regular unemployment benefits will run out this month.

Attempts by the United Steelworkers to negotiate a contract both before and since the lockout were rebuffed by ATI. In December the National Labor Relations Board determined the company’s lockout to be unlawful.

Although that decision opened the way for an administrative law judge to work with both parties toward a settlement, workers will continue to suffer due to the long-term consequences of losing their health care and unemployment benefits.

"Finding a way to get temporary relief to locked-out workers and their families in this situation is the right thing to do, not just for the workers but also to limit the economic damage done to local businesses and communities from the prolonged lockout," Dermody said.