41. UI Eligibility during a Labor Dispute
An individual may be disqualified from receiving benefits if unemployment is due to a “stoppage of work” because of a labor dispute. G.L. c. 151A, § 25(b). In order for there to be a stoppage of work, operations must be “substantially curtailed.” How much disruption is required to constitute a substantial curtailment is a fact-specific inquiry; there is no percentage threshold or numerical formula. Boguszewksi v. Commissioner of the Dep’t of Employment & Training, 410 Mass. 337, 338, 572 N.E.2d 554, 555 (1991) (“stoppage of work” occurred where two thirds of employees of a public electric utility ceased to work during a 4-week strike); Hertz Corp. v. Acting Director of the Div. of Employment & Training, 437 Mass. 295, 297, 771 N.E.2d 153, 155-56 (2002) (no decrease in rentals or revenue); Reed Nat. Corp. v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 393 Mass. 721, 473 N.E.2d 190 (1985) (25% drop in operations at only one plant did not constitute substantial curtailment); Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 378 Mass. 51, 389 N.E.2d 410 (1979); Adomaitis v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 334 Mass. 520, 136 N.E.2d 259 (1956).
The employer has the burden of proving that its operations have been substantially curtailed. Verizon New England, Inc. v. Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 1126, 31 N.E.3d 1192, 2 (Table) (2015) (employer has burden of proof regarding substantial curtailment of operations since all the information relevant to that inquiry is in the employer’s possession, and since the finding of a “stoppage of work” is an exception to the usual rule of awarding unemployment benefits).
The burden of proving a work stoppage also lies with the employer. M-63772–M-69116, 11 (4/24/13). The employer failed to establish a work stoppage where revenue declined less than 2% and then employer managed to perform between 80 and 98% of its business. Id.
However, the burden is on the claimant to prove that she falls within the exceptions to the provisions of the statute denying UI eligibility when unemployment results from a stoppage of work due to a labor dispute. General Electric Co. v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 349 Mass. 358, 208 N.E.2d 234 (1965).
The bar to benefits does not apply before the strike begins if the individual is involuntarily unemployed during contract negotiations, or after the strike has ended if the individual is not recalled within 1 week of the end of the strike. G.L. c. 151A, § 25(b).
This bar also does not apply if the claimant did not, as an individual or as a member of a group, participate in, finance, or have a direct interest in the labor dispute (notwithstanding the payment of union dues). G.L. c. 151A, § 25(b)(1), (2). However, even if an individual is not a member of a union participating in the strike, the requirement of “direct interest” is met if the outcome will either favorably or adversely affect the individual’s wages, hours, or conditions of work. Wheeler v. Director of the Div. of Employment Security, 347 Mass. 730, 200 N.E.2d 272 (1964).
If there has been a “lockout”—i.e., either a physical shut-down of a plant or a communication by the employer to its employees that there will be no more work until the end of the labor dispute—individuals are eligible for UI benefits whether or not there has been a stoppage of work, as long as they are willing to work under the terms of the existing or expired contract pending the negotiation of a new contract. The employer can prevent payment of UI under these circumstances only if it demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the lockout is in response to damage or threats of damage by bargaining-unit members with express or implied approval of the union’s officers, that the employer has taken reasonable measures to prevent such damage, and that such efforts have been unsuccessful. G.L. c. 151A, § 25 (b)(4), ¶ 2.