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Workers Finding Work Elsewhere

ForkliftAmerica’s rate of joblessness moved closer to Pennsylvania’s by dropping from 6.1 percent in August to 5.9 percent in September. The commonwealth’s unemployment rate hit 5.8 percent in August, which was an uptick of 0.1 percentage points. PA’s September rate will be released later this month.

There are now 329,000 fewer unemployed workers across the country since August and the national labor force is 155.8 million strong. PA, however, has not contributed to that performance as our labor force has dropped 80,000 workers since the start of 2014 and its size is now smaller than when Gov. Corbett took office in 2011.

The national labor force, on the other hand, is up by 1 million workers since the start of this year.

The national economy, meanwhile, added 248,000 new jobs and is now slightly north of 139.4 million. More than 2 million new jobs have been added countrywide since the start of the year. PA’s employment level, like its labor force, is below its December 2007 level by approximately 20,000 jobs.

Philadelphia County's local unemployment rate was the highest among all 57 counties at 7.7 percent, followed by Forest and Potter counties (tied at 7.6 percent), Pike County (7.5 percent) and Cameron, Huntingdon and Luzerne counties (7.3 percent).

Wyoming (7 percent) and Fayette (6.9 percent) counties, also on Pennsylvania’s top 10 list of highest unemployment rates, are still experiencing some of the highest Marcellus Shale drilling activity.

Fighting for Workers with Disabilities

DisabilitiesI held my annual Disability Awareness Day this week to help people experience the difficulties disabled persons encounter every day.

From wheelchairs, arm restraints and crutches to service dogs, there were plenty of opportunities to experience life with a disability.

If daily living for people with disabilities is a challenge, finding employment, according to a story on, can be twice as hard.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice as high as it is for people without. The reasons, according to the story, are many: “companies tend not to have staffing plans, they do not offer the flexibility many disabled workers need to flourish, and they don’t provide disabled employees with a forum that gives them a voice in company policies regarding hiring.

“The researchers identified task flexibility as a vital component of a corporate policy that would encourage the hiring and retention of more workers with disabilities. The concept offers to those with disabilities various options for getting their jobs done besides the usual suspects: flex time and working from a remote location,” the report reads.

I presented Disability Awareness Day because personal experiences can have a bigger impact on decision makers – at the state level and in the front office. People with disabilities face real challenges many times a day, all of the time. Experiencing what they do helps us as a commonwealth to improve services and be more thoughtful when developing policy and making budgeting decisions.

Tipped Minimum Gaining Attention

PaycheckIt is not a good thing that Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25; it is worse that our tipped minimum is about two-and-a-half times less than that.

My Senate Bill 1099 would increase the tipped minimum to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage, which my SB 1300 would incrementally hike to $10.10 by 2016. At just $2.83, PA’s tipped minimum is a relic of the past and is doing nothing to help the people who depend on tips to supplement their income.

Texas is waging a similar debate on the tipped minimum as we are here, according to the Houston Chronicle and reprinted in the San Antonio Express-News.

While U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has proposed a bill to up the tipped minimum to 70 percent of the regular minimum nationwide, the Texas Restaurant Association is rolling out the tired and unproven reasons why this would “fail.”

For example: “Texas restaurants will have to follow the example of their counterparts in the states that do not permit employers to pay a lower tip wage, [TRA CEO Richie Jackson] said. In those states, restaurants have cut their workforce by installing self-serve kiosks, using pre-shredded lettuce or having their secret tomato sauce made off site.”

Fortunately, supporters of fairer minimum wages – like the U.S. Labor Department – are fighting back.

Chief economist Heidi Shierholz said in places where restaurants are required to pay servers the regular minimum wage, everyone is benefitting.

California, she said, is requiring restaurant owners to pay servers the full minimum of $9 an hour and, according to the National Restaurant Association, California restaurants are “projected to create 9.1 percent more jobs during the next decade.”

It isn’t just California that is stepping up to the (pardon the pun) plate and is listening to the reasoned arguments for higher pay for restaurant workers. In Philly, the owners of the new Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie are planning to not allow diners to tip AND they say they will pay their waitstaff $13 an hour plus benefits.

Why are they doing this? The answer from Chef Brian Oliveira and co-owner Christian Mora will sound a lot like the argument supporters have been espousing and statistics have been backing up for years.

“It will result in ‘less turnover, more knowledgeable staff,’ Oliveira said, which will ‘result in a better product and better service’,” according to the story.

Unless lightning strikes next week in Harrisburg, supporters of a higher minimum wage will have to keep working to change stale paradigms. The 2013-’14 session ends on Wednesday.

If lawmakers fail to get these increases to the governor, you can be assured that I will re-introduce my minimum wage and Tipped wage proposals next year.

Made in America

WineThe countless seasonal events at the end of summer and beginning of fall gave us plenty of reasons to celebrate during the past few months, but, don’t worry, the merriment does not have to end, yet. During October, grab a stem with some friends in observance of Pennsylvania Wine Month. Whether you’re visiting local Pennsylvania wineries or enjoying a few glasses of the fermented stuff while relaxing at home, it’s time to appreciate the rich flavor of the wines produced right here in the Keystone State.  In between the local varieties, broaden your horizons with some of the following adult beverages made in towns and cities across the nation.  They are brought to you by members of the United Farm Workers (UFW), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

Arbor Mist
Barrelli Creek
Bartles & Jaymes
Boones Farm
C.K. Mondavi Wines
Carlo Rossi
Charles Krug
Chateau Ste. Michelle
CK Cellars
Cooks Champagne
Corbett Canyon Vineyard
Cribari Vineyards
Dunnewood Vineyards
Gallo Estate Wines
Gallo of Sonoma
Green Hungarian
Lejon Vermouth
Livingston Cellars
Manischewitz Wine
Mogen David
Peter Vella
Rancho Zabaco
Richards Wild Irish Rose
Scheffield Cellars
St. Supery
Taylor California Cellars
Taylor New York State
Tribuno Vermouth
Turning Leaf