Michael Malloy, the director of the department's division of programs, said that under New Jersey law, unemployment benefits cannot be granted during a curtailment of production, such as a strike or lockout. However, if a company has hired replacement workers, or enough union members have crossed the lines, then some of the workers could be eligible.
Malloy said the unemployment benefit applications "are being looked at on a case-by-case basis."
The investigation, which is continuing, will eventually encompass all 11 firms involved in the dispute.
"Although I can't give an exact date, we expect to finish the investigation sometime soon," Malloy said, adding that his department doesn't get involved with the merits or the arguments of the issues.
As reported, the plants -- 10 of which are represented by management group CP Associates -- are locking out the members.
The plants are refusing to accept a contract proposal by State Labor Commissioner Raymond Bramucci, which ended a 54-day strike on Dec. 15 and sent back about 700 workers to 10 other plants.
A union organizer said that while he would rather have the workers back at the plants, the unemployment benefits "will help some of the people get by -- but there's still a long way to go before we are satisfied in this matter with the plants."
Bruce McMoran, counsel for CP Associates, said his organization will be monitoring the situation closely.
Meanwhile, both sides are slated to meet Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Marriott Hotel in Saddle River, N.J., to try and end their dispute.