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Union membership often brings valuable benefits such as higher wages and a safer workplace, although workers can face a temporary loss in pay if a strike were to occur. Lengthy strikes, such as the Writers Guild of America strike — for which a tentative deal was reached, after five months, between the Guild and entertainment companies — can be taxing on union members’ finances.
In another recent high-profile strike, thousands of United Auto Workers (UAW) members crossed the picket line on Sept. 15, with a resolution yet to be reached between the union and automakers Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.
If you’re a union worker who’s on strike, you’re likely experiencing a loss in income — and you might not know for how long the strike will ultimately last. Here are some ways to minimize the financial effects of a strike and avoid depleting your emergency fund or retirement savings.
Collect from the union’s strike fund
Because employers stop paying workers when they go on strike, some unions collect dues from their members to build up a strike fund. If you’re a member of such a union, you’ll likely be able to receive financial assistance from the union if a strike occurs.
A union’s strike fund may also cover select medical benefits such as doctor visits and prescription drugs, although some workers choose to pay for continued health coverage through COBRA.
Assistance from a strike fund will likely amount to considerably less than your regular pay, though it can help offset your loss of income until the strike is resolved.
Eligible UAW members who are currently striking receive $100 per weekday from the union’s strike fund, according to the union’s website.
Cut your expenses
As with any type of job loss, cutting your expenses — even temporarily — can help keep you afloat until your income goes back up. Start by canceling any services you’re currently paying for that you can do without. Examples may include:
- Streaming services and cable TV
- Gym memberships
- Magazine subscriptions
- House cleaning services
Depending on your personal situation, some additional steps can be taken to to trim your expenses:
Cut credit card spending: For now, only use your credit card for emergencies. If you carry balances on multiple credit cards, consider consolidating them onto a single balance transfer card with a low introductory annual percentage rate (APR).
Cook more meals at home: You may be able to cut your food bill significantly by making more meals at home. Plan your meals in advance to minimize last-minute trips to the store (and the associated impulse purchases).
Reducing your spending helps you conserve cash during a strike, says Michael Sullivan of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Take Charge America. “Pay the minimum amount due on bills. Negotiate new terms on loans. Cancel all subscriptions and eliminate travel, entertainment and eating out.”
Sullivan also advises finding other ways to maximize your income during a strike. “Being on strike doesn’t mean giving up. Get one or more part-time jobs. Do delivery or odd jobs. Sell things you don’t really need. See if you may be eligible for benefits from a government or private agency. Borrow on life insurance policies and, in a real emergency, understand how to borrow from retirement funds.”
Plan ahead for future strikes
As a union member, it can pay to beef up your nest egg in a high-yield savings account to help cover expenses in the event of a future strike.
Having enough savings to cover up to several months’ worth of bills will help keep you from going into debt or dipping into retirement savings if you experience a temporary loss of income.
One way to make it easier to save is to set up automatic transfers from your checking to your savings account every payday. This way, you won’t have to remember to transfer the money, and you won’t be tempted to spend it on other things.
The best preparation for a strike is to save money, and the second best preparation is to avoid debt, Sullivan of Take Charge America says. “Workers who could be affected by a strike need to save as much as possible, eliminate as many expenses as possible, and have a budget prepared in advance that is based on anticipated income for the duration of the strike.”
Workers who are on strike aren’t paid by their employer, so some unions have an established strike fund that helps offset the loss in wages. However, the amount you’ll receive from such a fund will likely be significantly less than your regular wages.
Currently, only the states of New York and New Jersey allow striking workers to collect unemployment benefits, under certain conditions. Pending legislation in California would also allow the state’s residents to qualify for unemployment while on strike.
While strikes can last for days, weeks or even months, in 2022 around 46 percent of strikes lasted one day or less, while two-thirds of strikes lasted fewer than five days, according to the Labor Action Tracker.