New York

As union pushes for higher unemployment benefits, poll shows broad statewide support


A majority of New York state voters say unemployment benefits are too low and should be raised, according to a new poll commissioned by the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, the powerful union that represents hotel workers.

The survey conducted by Tulchin Research in mid-February found 70% of voters who were polled support an increase to the maximum amount of unemployment benefits currently allowed by the state. Support for such an increase is fairly consistent across political party lines as well, with 80% of Democratic voters, 57% of Republicans and 63% of independents saying they back it.

Rich Maroko, president of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, told the Daily News that he hopes the new data will bolster his push for Gov. Hochul to raise the maximum unemployment payout in New York, which currently lags behind nearby states like New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Respectively, people in those states can receive up to $854, $796 and $1,033 per week in unemployment benefits.

As it now stands, the highest unemployment payment New Yorkers can receive is $504 per week, which is equivalent to $12.60 an hour — $3.40 less than the $16 minimum wage.

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2023/03/24: President of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council Rich Maroko speaks at rally in support of the Child Tax Credit and the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit at 32BJ Headquarters. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
President of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council Rich Maroko (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Maroko, who recently penned an op-ed in The News about the issue, wants Hochul to include his union’s proposal to raise the unemployment cap into her budget, as well as eliminate a provision that prevents striking union workers from collecting benefits within the same timeframe as other people seeking unemployment payments.

When union workers are on strike, they must now wait two additional weeks before they’re eligible to receive benefits. According to the Tulchin poll, 54% of New Yorkers surveyed about that discrepancy described it as “not fair,” and 60% said striking workers have the same wait time — a week — as other people who receive benefits.

“If average rent in the city of New York is $3,000 plus per month, $504 doesn’t even cover rent, much less pay all of the other bills — utilities and internet and food and the rest,” Moroko said. “We’re way behind our neighbors, and the cap has not increased in five years.”

The reason for that five-year lag is rooted in insolvency in the state’s unemployment fund brought on largely by increased claims from so many people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. Under normal circumstances the cap on unemployment benefits automatically increases on an annual basis, Maroko noted, but that doesn’t occur when the state’s unemployment trust fund is running at a deficit. Currently, that deficit stands at approximately $7.5 billion.

“No one foresaw the trust fund being insolvent for as long as it is, and so no one thought that we’d be stuck at $504 for this long … certainly not in an environment where inflation has been as high as it has been,” Maroko said, adding the delay in benefits to striking union workers is another issue.

The union honcho said he’s been in talks with Hochul and her staff for about two months about raising the cap on benefits and eliminating the two-week wait for striking union workers. Hochul’s team didn’t reveal much about where she stands on those changes when contacted by the Daily News, but a spokesman appeared to leave the door open to Maroko’s asks.

“Governor Hochul is always fighting for working people, which is why she fought to pass legislation to raise the minimum wage and crack down on wage theft,” said Avi Small, a spokesman for the governor. “New York’s unemployment rate has plummeted since Governor Hochul took office, and we’ll continue working with stakeholders to support New Yorkers who fall on hard times.”


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