Court Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Early End to Pandemic Unemployment

Members of the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Jenn Bentley

A lawsuit challenging Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to end federal pandemic unemployment benefits early was dismissed by a state court last week.

The suit was filed by a group of unemployed Louisiana residents in July 2021 after Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature reached an agreement to end the $300 weekly benefit five weeks before it was set to expire. In exchange, the Legislature agreed to commit to raising Louisiana’s maximum unemployment benefit by $28 per week in 2022. It was the first time in more than 10 years that Louisiana had raised unemployment rates.

The lawsuit alleged that under Louisiana’s Employment Security Law, the state is responsible for protecting workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic from further economic insecurity. However, 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelly found that Louisiana was not legally required to participate in federal unemployment programs, leaving Louisiana’s unemployed residents with no legal rights to pursue their claim.

“It’s a disappointing result for Louisiana workers and speaks to the ongoing need to reform our state unemployment system,” said Andrea Agee, senior staff attorney for the Workplace Justice Project.

Business owners argued that because pandemic lockdowns had been lifted and businesses were reopening the federal benefit was contributing to the ongoing worker shortage.

“The weekly payment, combined with state unemployment assistance, is currently the equivalent of almost $14 per hour, which is nearly median individual income in the state. In other words, one can be in the middle of the pack in terms of earnings by not working,” a statement from the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce to the Legislature read.

However, ending the benefit has not put an end to the worker shortage, particularly here in New Orleans. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 31,000 jobs in Louisiana’s hospitality sector remain unfilled – the majority of which are from New Orleans. The healthcare sector also remains critically short of employees.

“Nurse recruitment and retention is our biggest challenge right now and it will be for healthcare providers throughout the country,” said Ayame Dinkler, Chief Administration Officer for LCMC Health in New Orleans.

Throughout the pandemic, huge numbers of US workers have been quitting their jobs, with many leaving the workforce entirely. Across the media, it’s become known as “The Great Resignation” or “Great Reshuffle.” Data shows that there are now 3.6 million fewer people on payrolls than there had been pre-pandemic. In addition, labor force participation rates – the percentage of people in the population looking for work – remain far below pre-pandemic levels. Service industry jobs have been most affected, with a 6.9 percent quit rate here in Louisiana. Workers are leaving the industry for jobs that offer better pay and benefits than they previously could find.

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *