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Labor Report

Labor Secretary Backs Minimum Wage Raise, Workforce Development

Senator Christine TartaglionePennsylvania Secretary of Labor & Industry W. Gerard Oleksiak testified on Feb. 26 that raising the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour this year would save PA taxpayers $100 million in public assistance to low-wage workers and save another $600 million in federal assistance spending. Meanwhile, Oleksiak further said that he has seen no reports that minimum wage raises in other states have resulted in significant job loss.

Oleksiak delivered his sworn comments during a Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing. As an Appropriations Committee member and minority chair of the Labor & Industry Committee, Senator Tartaglione led questioning of Oleksiak on numerous labor topics, including minimum wage, wage theft, unemployment compensation, workforce development and vocational rehabilitation.

Raising the minimum wage to $12 immediately ($9 for tipped workers) is a primary objective of legislation that Tartaglione introduced last month. The senator’s bill further proposes increasing the MW incrementally to $15 ($12 for tipped workers) by 2024, followed by annual, automatic cost-of-living adjustments.

The Wolf administration supports raising the MW to $12 for Fiscal 2019. In response to Tartaglione’s questioning, Oleksiak called cost-of-living adjustments “a great idea” because it allows for better financial planning for businesses while increasing workers’ purchasing power, money that will be reinjected into the economy.

“The last time the minimum wage was raised in Pennsylvania it had a positive impact on the economy overall,” he said.

When the senator asked Oleksiak about his Department’s efforts to combat wage theft – which resulted in a $258 million loss for workers in 2013 – the secretary said that enforcement is a challenge because the department employs only a handful of investigators compared to “hundreds” for a state like New York.

“With more resources, we could do a lot more,” Oleksiak said.

The secretary said that an Unemployment Compensation funding bill passed by the legislature late last year has enabled the department to re-hire 156 customer service workers who had been furloughed when a prior funding law expired in December 2016. The staffing boost and improvements to UC’s call centers statewide have reduced wait times for jobless workers as they attempt to file claims and collect benefits.

On the workforce development issue, Oleksiak said that the governor has proposed to invest $7 million largely in apprentice training programs and partnerships with industries and schools. The funding would support new programs, improvement for existing programs, expanding programs into non-traditional fields like mental health and early childhood and creating pre-apprentice programs to high school students.

As an advocate for disabled workers, Tartaglione complemented the record of L&I’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation that, according to Oleksiak, found gainful, “real” jobs for about 9,300 people with physical or intellectual challenges last year, resulting in a $77 million impact on the state’s economy.

NLRB Vacates Anti-Worker Ruling Due To Board Conflict

Labor LawA conflict of interest involving a Trump appointee to the National Labor Relations Board has caused the board to vacate a landmark December 2017 ruling that made it more difficult for workers to collective bargain with joint employers and hold them accountable for labor law violations.

The NLRB on Monday, Feb. 26, unanimously withdrew its 2-month-old decision in a joint-employer case known as “Hy-Brand,” citing a report by the board’s inspector general that faulted board member Bill Emanuel for failing to recuse himself in the matter. In the absence of the anti-worker Hy-Brand ruling, a 2015 NLRB decision that established a more labor-friendly standard can once again serve as the guiding precedent for the board’s joint-employer rulings.

Emanuel should have recused himself from the Hy-Brand case because prior to joining the NLRB, he worked at a law firm that represented a company involved in the 2015 NLRB joint-employer case known as “Browning-Ferris.” In short, Emanuel’s firm was on the losing side in the Browning-Ferris case. Then as a board member, Emanuel cast a deciding vote on the Hy-Brand case that effectively overturned Browning-Ferris.

In the case, the NLRB perhaps surprisingly sided with a group of workers against two construction firms, Iowa-based Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors Ltd. and Illinois-based Brandt Construction Co. The board found that the companies jointly employed the plaintiffs and were “jointly and severally liable for the unlawful discharges of seven striking employees.” However, in apparent contradiction to its own finding regarding the matter at-hand, the NLRB expressly narrowed the standard by which it classifies joint employers.

Generally, the Hy-Brand ruling made it more difficult for workers to force franchisers or contractors that use outside staffing to engage in collective bargaining. Similarly, the ruling made it harder for workers to hold franchisers or contractors accountable for labor law violations.

As noted by many commentators including, the Hy-Brand case was among at least five anti-labor rulings issued by the NLRB in mid-December just before the departure of Trump-backed Chairman Philip Miscimarra left a vacancy on the board, which is now evenly split between two Democrats and two Republicans.

With the Hy-Brand ruling voided and Emanuel likely to recuse himself on new joint-employer standard cases, the NLRB on Thursday, March 1, took the unusual step of asking a federal appeals court to revive the court’s dormant review of the 2015 Browning-Ferris ruling. The D.C. Circuit Court heard arguments in Browning-Ferris last March, but the court dropped the case after the NLRB’s Hy-Brand ruling.

U.S. Senators Press Trump’s New NLRB Nominee on Ethics Questions

Hearing RoomDonald Trump’s latest National Labor Relations Board nominee, Morgan Lewis & Bockius management-side attorney John Ring, faced pointed questions about his ethical standards during a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, March 1.

The inquiries from Senators Patty Murray and Elizabeth Warren referenced the conflict of interest fiasco that forced the board to vacate its landmark December 2017 joint-employer ruling known as “Hy-Brand” late last month.

At one point in the hearing, Warren reportedly stated “a big ethics cloud now hangs over” the NLRB. Ring reportedly replied that such ethical issues “are something that’s very concerning,” and that they “cast a shadow on the good work of the board.”

Ring refused to share his personal view on the joint-employer standard issue that was central to the Hy-Brand case.

NLRB Employees Warn of Agency Spending Cuts and Hiring Freeze

With proposed Trump administration budget cuts looming, the National Labor Relations Board has begun to implement drastic spending cuts despite a recent Congressional resolution that assured the board full funding through fiscal 2018, according to a letter sent to lawmakers by NLRB employees. reported on Thursday, March 1, that the NLRB Professional Association, which represented workers in the agency’s Washington headquarters, sent identical letters to two U.S. Senators and two U.S. House members claiming that “the NLRB was authorized by Congress' most recent continuing resolution to receive annualized funding for fiscal 2018 of $274 million through March 23. But in a budget justification submitted by the NLRB, the agency asked for an annualized rate of $258 million for the rest of fiscal 2018, and the Trump administration has recently proposed reducing that number even further next year.

“The effects of such immediate cuts, the union said, will be a hiring freeze, the elimination of performance awards for employees, scrapping research tools used by NLRB attorneys, and laying off contractors that provide health and information technology services.”

Keystone Research Report Cites Giant Eagle’s Anti-Worker Record

Giant EagleA new report issued by the Keystone Research Center concludes that Giant Eagle, the Pittsburgh area’s highest-grossing company and one of its largest employers, took a lead role in reducing middle class-level jobs to poverty-wage jobs while undermining efforts by its employees to organize.

According to the Post-Gazette, the 45-page report was issued on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and comes as a contract between the company and the United Food and Commercial Workers is about to expire. UFCW represents about 5,600 of the company’s 32,000 workers.

“The UFCW has publicly called for higher wages and protested what it sees as the grocer’s attempts to weaken the union,” the newspaper reported.

“The union has also filed several labor charges against Giant Eagle, claiming, among other things, the company retaliated against employees for union activism. … A UFCW contract expires in June, and bargaining sessions have not yet been scheduled, according to a union spokesman.”

Vermont Senate Approves $15 Minimum Wage

Minimum WageThe Vermont Senate voted 20-10 on Feb. 16 in favor of a bill that proposes to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2024, a level that would equal Pennsylvania’s minimum wage as proposed by legislation introduced by Senator Tartaglione last month.

Unlike Pennsylvania, which has a minimum wage of $7.25 that mirrors the federal minimum, Vermont’s minimum wage is already at $10.50, according to the Vermont Standard. Although that state’s Republican governor opposes the minimum wage raise, advocates hope that the state’s House of Representatives will pass the legislation with a veto-proof majority.

Pittsburgh Teachers, Administration Reach Tentative Pact

classroomPittsburgh’s public schools averted their first work stoppage in 42 years early this week when leaders of the city’s 3,000-member teachers union reached a tentative agreement with administration just days before a planned strike.

Neither the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, nor Pittsburgh Public Schools, released details of the agreement pending ratification by the union and school board in the coming weeks. If approved, the pact would cover three years, according to the Post-Gazette.