Federal workers, postal employes, an traffic controllers or others who go out on strike are ineligible for unemployment compensation in 48 of the 50 states. According to Labor Department officials, only two states -- New York and Rhode Island -- allow persons involved in "labor disputes" (which can be strikes or lockouts) to collect unemployment.

In New York, persons applying for unemployment must wait eight weeks in most cases before they can begin drawing benefits. Rhode Island has a seven-week wait. All other states, plus the District of Columbia, refuse to pay benefits to strikers or people locked out by employers because of a strike.

Because of the situation with postal workers (whose contract with the U.S. Postal Service expires at midnight) and with air traffic controllers, who are voting heavily against a tenative new contract with the Federal Aviation Administration, many people have called to ask about unemployment benefits for people on strike.

The fact that strikes against the government are illegal has no bearing on eligibility for benefits, according to Labor Department experts. State laws and rules do not usually deal with whether a strike is legal or illegal, only with the issue of "labor disputes." Generally speaking, if you are involved in one, you don't collect whether you play third base for the Cincinnati Reds, sling mail at the Merrifield postal facility or direct air traffic at O'Hare International.