Excluded workers shut down Manhattan Bridge calling for Unemployment Bridge Program

Excluded workers march over the Manhattan Bridge calling for the Unemployment Bridge Program.
Excluded workers march over the Manhattan Bridge calling for the Unemployment Bridge Program.
Photo by Asya Pikovsky

Hundreds of excluded workers led a massive march across the Manhattan Bridge last Monday calling for statewide legislation to provide excluded workers with permanent access to unemployment compensation.

Workers in hard hats, cleaning supplies and other work tools shut down traffic to demand support for the Unemployment Bridge Program (UBP), which would open the doors to the safety net for the first time for excluded workers – freelancers, self-employed workers, undocumented workers, and workers in re-entry who have been shut out of traditional unemployment insurance since it was first set up in 1935.

The Unemployment Bridge Program (S.3192 / A.4821) would set up a $500 million fund to provide excluded workers who lose work with monthly compensation on par with what other workers receive.

A recent Immigration Research Initiative report estimated that 750,000 workers across New York would be eligible for the Unemployment Bridge Program.

The program would directly address racial inequity in federal and state unemployment insurance programs, which disproportionately shut out workers of color.

A whopping 73 percent of workers who would be eligible for UBP are workers of color, and 22 percent are Black workers.

Organizers said that, for the second year in a row, Gov. Kathy Hochul “didn’t include a single dollar of support for excluded workers, even though such workers increasingly power New York’s economy, with freelance work in particular ballooning in popularity.”

A recent poll showed more than half of non-freelancers said they’d be likely to do freelance work in the future.

UI programs for excluded workers are catching on across the country. Colorado passed a permanent excluded worker UI program in 2022, and in January, workers in California launched a campaign for a similar program across the state.

California’s Sonoma County recently launched a similar program to provide relief for low-income workers who’d lost wages after record flooding this winter.

Excluded workers hold signs calling for the Unemployment Bridge Program.
Excluded workers hold signs calling for the Unemployment Bridge Program. Photo by Asya Pikovsky

The action was supported by Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), the Street Vendor Project, Desis Rising Up and Moving, Laundry Worker Center, Workers Justice Project, Red de Pueblos Transnacionales, the National Writers Union, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

“Excluded workers are a critical driver of New York’s economy, yet they can’t get access to the safety net benefits that their hard work and tax dollars have helped fund,” said Nisha Tabassum, campaign manager for the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition.

“It’s time to correct this injustice once and for all by passing the Unemployment Bridge Program,” she added. “We shouldn’t need to scramble to support excluded workers if a crisis strikes. We should have a lifeline permanently available to all workers, no matter where they’re from or what kind of work they do.”

“New York City was built by excluded workers. It runs on the labor of essential workers. It’s time to support excluded workers so that families can survive no matter what comes up in the future, whether it’s a pandemic or an economic slowdown. This is the year to make sure we’re excluded no more!” said Alvaro Gonzalez, an organizer with Laborers’ Local 79.

“Unemployment insurance is an important labor right that would help me feel safer at my job. Right now, I feel like I have to do whatever my boss says, even when I’m sick or physically hurt, because I wouldn’t be able to survive if I lost my job. New York State needs to invest in workers like me to prevent our bosses from abusing us,” said Edward, a South Queens member of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM).

“The National Writers Union is proud to be a part of the coalition of unions and mass organizations marching for the Unemployment Bridge Program. Every worker deserves the protections of some form of unemployment compensation if she loses work. The restructuring of the economy means that more and more workers are unprotected. We’re crossing that bridge, now that we’ve come to it,” said Larry Goldbetter, president of the National Writers Union.

“We stand in solidarity with workers who contribute to the economy of New York State and yet are not provided any safety net support. All workers should have access to a safety net when a pandemic hits or they’re unemployed. There should be absolutely no exclusions,” said Jose Saldana, director of Release Aging People in Prison.

“Today, on the week of International Women’s Day, hundreds of workers are marching towards the Manhattan Bridge – many of whom are women who work in different types of labor and who continue to be left out of any safety net relief. We urge Gov. Hochul to act in the best interests of women and their families who continue to face labor abuse and discrimination. By supporting the Unemployment Bridge Program, our families can live a better quality of life and will be more prepared for the next crisis,” said Diana Sanchez, regional coordinator at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.