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Labor Report

Congress Takes Up Gender Pay Inequality Issue with New House Bill

For the 11th time, Congressional Democrats led by Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut have introduced legislation aimed at eliminating the gender pay gap. But for the first time in a while, the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act appears likely to pass the U.S. House.

Introduced on January 30 and immediately referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor, H.R. 7 has 239 listed co-sponsors including all nine Pennsylvania Democrats and one Republican, New Jersey Representative Christopher Smith. The House Education and Labor Committee held a joint subcommittee hearing on February 13 with testimony from officials of the National Women’s Law Center, Mom’s Rising, and other wage equality advocates.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women who work full-time in the U.S. earn just 82 cents for every dollar that men earn for comparable work.

“Several factors explain this difference, but researchers believe a big part of it is due to discrimination,” reported, citing a Fall 2018 report by the American Association of University Women. “But that’s really hard to prove because, for one simple reason: No one really knows what private employers are paying their workers.”

In 2016, the Obama administration created an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule requiring privately-held businesses with at least 100 employees to compile and submit their pay data broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity. Critics of the rule argued it placed an undue burden on businesses. The Trump administration repealed the rule in 2017.

The new House legislation would require employers to report employee pay, along with promotions and dismissals, broken down by gender and race.

Senator Tartaglione has led efforts in Pennsylvania to amend Pennsylvania’s 1959 Equal Pay Law and help women earn the same as men for comparable work. Last June, she introduced Senate Bill 1200 that proposed to broaden the definition of “wages” to include other forms of compensation such as salary, fringe benefits, and other wage supplements. The bill proposed to require employers to defend pay differentials, and also proposed to expand the enforcement powers of the Department of Labor and Industry, as well as the Attorney General.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order last June mandating pay equality for state employees.

Millions of Federal Employees to Get Cancelled Raises in Spending Bill

Federal employees will get their cancelled 2019 raises after all, as part of the new government spending package that the White House has said the president will sign into law. But federal contractors who found themselves out of work during the 35-day government shutdown in December and January will not be able to recoup lost income.

Congressional negotiators hammered out the bipartisan deal late on February 13 less than two days before another shutdown was to begin. The agreement reportedly provides a 1.9 percent raise for about 2.1 million federal civilian employees, including a 1.4 percent across-the-board wage increase as well as a 0.5 percent “locality pay” increase. Locality pay is an adjustment based on regional costs of living.

The spending bill restores most of the 2.1 percent raise and locality pay increase that employees were due to receive on January 1, until President Trump instituted a wage freeze three days after Christmas.

Federal contract workers, meanwhile, were shut out of the spending bill. According to the HuffPost, Congressional Democrats with some Republican co-sponsors have proposed legislation to reimburse contractors for the work they lost during the shutdown, but Republican leaders opposed those provisions as part of the negotiated spending plan. The affected contractors employ many low-wage workers like janitors and security guards at federal buildings who went without paychecks for more than a month.

Amazon Cancels NYC HQ2 Plan Amid Political Opposition

Amazon’s corporate stance on labor unions may have been a determining factor in the company’s decision to cancel its plans to build its highly sought HQ2 in New York City’s borough of Queens, a move that comes at the potential cost of 25,000 new jobs there.

The online retailer announced the cancellation on February 14 and publicly blamed opposition from some elected officials.

“After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens,” the company said in a written statement, according to the New York Daily News. “While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.”

The Daily News further reported this week that leaders of several affected unions – including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; Teamsters; and the AFL-CIO – met with company officials and Governor Andrew Cuomo on February 13, when the company produced “a framework for moving forward that did not require unionization.” The newspaper attributed that assessment to RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum.

However, during a City Council hearing in January, Amazon officials indicated they would not stand idle if confronted with efforts by employees to unionize the new headquarters.

“Would you agree to neutrality if workers at Amazon wanted to unionize?” Council Speaker Corey Johnson reportedly asked Amazon Vice President Brian Huseman during the hearing.

“No, sir,” Huseman replied.

Later, Huseman told the panel, “We respect an employee’s right to choose or to choose not to join a union. We do firmly believe that the direct connection we have between our employees, and an open-door policy, is the most effective way to respond to the concerns of the workforce.”

Johnson, the Council speaker, responded: “You are in a union city. That is not a way to come to our city, a city where 20 percent of our people live at or below the poverty line.”

Amazon reportedly will move forward with developing its other new headquarters in Arlington County, Virginia, where Right to Work has been the law of the land since 1947, according to Politico.

Aramark Withholds Thousands of Bonuses Despite Record Profits

Thousands of lower-level managers for Philadelphia-based Aramark Corporation lost out on incentive-based annual bonuses this month despite a record-setting year for company profits, and even though many of the managers met their individual performance goals for 2018, according to a new Inquirer report.

The company’s decision not to pay the bonuses also stumped the would-be recipients because Aramark gained some $100 million in surplus cash from changes in the federal tax code that were signed into law in 2017 as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Aramark employs about 170,000 nationwide, 14,000 in Pennsylvania and 6,500 in the Philadelphia region, the newspaper reported.

For many affected managers, the company’s bonus structure accounts for “up to 20 percent or more of their annual compensation.” Typically, they would have received their bonuses in early January, three months after the conclusion of the company’s fiscal year. The affected managers were notified they wouldn’t be getting annual bonuses on February 1, although they were also told they would receive one-time payments of $5,500 to $27,000, depending on their management tier.

Aramark’s adjusted operating income for the year was a record $974.5 million, about 95 percent of the company’s $1.03 billion target, the Inquirer reported. Meanwhile, the company’s top executives still got their incentive bonuses because “the company met precisely the ‘minimum threshold’ for executive bonus payments,” CFO Stephen Bramlage told the paper.

CEO Eric Foss collected a $2.8 million bonus and $16 million in total compensation.

Pittsburgh News Guild Files Labor Complaint After Publisher’s Outburst

A union representing news staff at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint against the paper’s publisher following a February 9 late night incident when he allegedly showed up in the newsroom unexpectedly with his 12-year-old daughter and berated workers.

The alleged outburst drew national attention and came amid a prolonged contract dispute between The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and the paper’s longtime owners, Block Communications. The incident involved publisher John Robinson Block, who according to witnesses was “screaming at the top of his lungs, raving like a lunatic and repeatedly and loudly slapping the guild bulletin board with his hand,” the Washington Post reported, quoting an email written by a union official to members.

The union’s bulletin board is a protected form of internal communication under the terms of the paper’s most recent collective bargaining agreement. On it, union members posted a sign reading “Shame on the Blocks.” Guild members have been working without a contract since March 2017.

The guild has accused the publisher of attempting to intimidate members and has asked that John Block be banned from the newsroom.

The Block family has owned the paper since 1926. John Block has been publisher since 1989, his twin brother Allan, is company chairman. The union has been critical of the paper’s senior leadership in recent times for some of its editorial dictates. Last March, the paper published an unsigned editorial purportedly defending offensive language used by President Trump regarding immigrants. Guild members also objected when the paper fired a longtime editorial cartoonist who often criticized the president in his work.