U.S. workers are usually denied jobless benefits when they go on strike. After all, they walked off the job.
Except in New York. The state is the only one in the U.S. that in some cases allows striking workers to receive unemployment benefits, according to a union official.
Apparently thousands of workers at Verizon Communications are trying to take advantage of the rare law. During a two-week strike that ended Tuesday, about 21,000 union members filed applications for unemployment compensation, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Workers rally outside Verizon headquarters in New York in this August 8, 2011 file photograph. Those workers might be eligible for the $405 maximum weekly benefit New York provides. The state labor office was unable to immediately say who is eligible and under what circumstances.
About 16,000 of those members live in New York, said Candice Johnson, spokeswoman of the Communications Workers of America, the bigger of two Verizon unions that went on strike.
Yet that still leaves as many as 5,000 Verizon union members who filed applications in other states where they probably are not eligible for benefits.
Johnson said it's "common knowledge" among Verizon workers in all states but New York that they are not eligible for government benefits during a strike. Yet local union offices in New York likely advised members to file applications with the state, she said.
As for Verizon workers in other states, Johnson said she's unsure why they might have filed claims.
Under federal law, states have to accept all applications for jobless benefits even if a person seeking compensation is not eligible. The claims can later be rejected and states are not obligated to pay.
Historically, workers have been denied benefits when they initiated a strike. The only time they might be eligible is if a company prevents workers from going to their jobs during a contract dispute or it engages in unfair labor practices.
If the two sides disagree about whether a labor impasse is a strike or a lockup, the dispute usually ends up being mediated by the states.
In the case of Verizon, the company and the unions seem to agree that workers initiated the strike. "They chose to walk out," said Verizon spokesman Rich Young.
The CWA's own press releases have also characterized the impasse as a strike.
"Some 45,000 workers, members of CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have been on strike since 12:01 a.m. Aug. 7," a release on Aug. 12 stated.
The CWA, however, has also charged Verizon with unfair labor practices, while the company has accused the unions of not bargaining in good faith.
Jeffry Bartash is a reporter for MarketWatch in Washington where this story originally appeared.