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Senate Labor Legislation Update

billsThe Senate amended Senate Bill 1195 (Gordner) on the floor during Third Consideration this week. Overall, the purpose of S.B. 1195 is to change the claims process for the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) and to authorize the Fund to create lists of designated health care providers that may provide treatment to injured workers. Additionally, the bill transfers $4 million to the Fund to address its insolvency.

Despite weeks of negotiations regarding concerns with the bill, the only amendment that was successful was Senator Gordner's amendment which allows for a citation of law of court or administrative ruling to serve as sufficient proof that an employee working for an out-of-state employer is not entitled to Workers' Comp. benefits in another state, so that he/she may proceed in seeking such benefits in Pennsylvania.

Amendments offered to the bill, by myself and other members of the Democratic Caucus were voted down by Republican Members. These amendment would have ensured the remainder of the Worker's Comp. Act remained in effect in Pennsylvania if any provision of the Act was determined invalid by a court, would have allowed employee testimony, alone, to serve as valid proof of wages, and would have allowed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' employment and wage data to serve as an alternate wage rate in the event an employee was unable to provide proof of wages from his/her employer.

I requested that my fellow Members of the Democratic Caucus, vote against this bill on Third Consideration and Final Passage as it fails to provide employees with sufficient means to provide proof of earned wages in determining their wage loss benefits while they are out of work with an injury. The bill passed the Senate in a party-line vote of 25-23 because the bill does not support the injured worker.

Currently, the bill awaits referral to a committee in the House.

House Bill 1154 (Miller) passed the House this week, 115-74. This proposal would reduce an exemption for labor union activities involving harassment, stalking or threats to use weapons of mass destruction. Constitutionally protected activities of labor unions remain exempt from the crimes of stalking and harassment. HB 1154 awaits referral to a Senate committee.


Mark Your Calendars

calendarMark your calendars and plan to attend the “Raise the Wage PA Coalition's” press conference at 3 p.m., March 18 in the Capitol Media Center. The group will be urging that Pennsylvania increase its minimum and tipped wages. I will be featured as a key legislative speaker during this event and will be discussing the plight of the state's lowest paid workers, as well as my legislation to raise the minimum and tipped wages for employees throughout the commonwealth.

Emergency UC Breakthrough?

It has taken too long to get to this point, and it remains to be seen if it will ultimately happen, but a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators yesterday agreed to a $10 billion extension of federal unemployment benefits. If approv

ed by the House, it would provide an additional five months of UC insurance to workers who have been devastated by the recession and have not been able to find new jobs for a very long time.

unemploymentIf approved, the extension would be retroactive to Dec. 31, when emergency UC benefits expired.

Unless lawmakers are feeling pressure to move this bill, I am worried it may not come to fruition. When the Senate approved a three-month extension in January, I said in that week’s Labor Report that I didn’t think the House would go for that because they wanted spending cuts to balance the cost of the extension.

This time, as CNN reported, the extension’s costs would be offset by changes in federal pension laws.

Too much time has passed since the end of 2013 and I fear the cost of doing nothing will eventually eclipse the cost of this five-month extension.

Minimum Wage Progress

One of the more hotly contested races for the state legislature has unfolded in York County where incumbent Republican Ron Miller is fighting a challenge by write-in Republican Scott Wagner and Democrat Linda Small.

I mention this because, no matter the result, it appears we have one more voice in favor of increasing PA’s minimum wage. Rep. Miller said this week during a radio debate that he thinks President Obama’s decision to increase the base hourly wage for new federal contract workers to $10.10/hour was too much, but that he did favor an increase in the state minimum from $7.25/hour to no more than $9/hour.

moneyWagner, the owner of the Penn Waste garbage hauling company, said he would support an increase in the low $9/hour area, and Small, a Navy veteran, said she supports the president’s $10.10 target.

President Obama, meanwhile, said in his weekly address last week that he is has been glad to learn that so many major companies are moving to voluntarily increase their minimum wages, without legislative action.

The continued bad refrain from people who oppose increasing the minimum wage is that it will trigger inflation or people will lose their jobs and the economy will decline. I have never agreed with these uninformed reactions, and now there is one more significant bit of scientific evidence that increasing the minimum wage does none of that.

Economists at the University of California-Berkeley said just this morning that their study of nine major U.S. cities that have increased their minimum wages in the past 10 years, plus 21 states that mandate higher minimum wages than the federally required $7.25/hour, has found these actions have had no effect on employment.

“Businesses absorbed the costs through lower turnover, small price increases at restaurants, which have a high concentration of low-wage workers, and higher worker productivity, the researchers found,” the study’s researchers reported.

My legislation to increase the minimum in Pennsylvania to $9/hour by 2015 is already before Pennsylvania lawmakers. Senate Bill 858 needs to happen, and I am on record supporting a larger increase than $9. Senate Bill 1099 is also awaiting action; this would increase the tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers and others who depend on the generosity of customers to make a living. The rate is currently a measly $2.83/hour. My bill would make it 70 percent of whatever the regular minimum wage is paying.

Labor Black Eye

the HillI read an interesting article in The Hill this week about how the United Nations Human Rights Committee is nearing its review of the United States’ treatment of migrant workers.

A large group of labor and civil rights organizations have teamed up to ask the U.N. panel to take steps to make sure U.S. employers treat migrant workers much better than they, apparently, have. The Pennsylvania McDonald’s student guest workers case was featured prominently in the story.

The point of this was well articulated in the story: human rights protections “don’t just matter for the millions of migrant workers in the U.S.; they matter for the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them.”

One of the more chilling arguments is the U.S. government is “deporting the evidence” by going after those migrant workers who have tried to fight working conditions and low pay.

Made in PA

As spring nears and we look forward to warmer days and nights in the commonwealth, our minds wander toward outdoor festivities in our towns, neighborhoods and backyards, as well as the seasonal fare that will accompany these events. 

all cladWhen preparing food for these festivities, remember the top name in union-made, Pennsylvania-based cookware is All-Clad Metalcrafters LLC.  Since 1971, this company, located in Canonsburg, has been inspiring chefs with its hand-crafted, artisanal kitchen products made by employees who are members of United Steel Workers, Local 3403, District four.

Beginning as a metallurgical company that made coins for the U.S. Mint in 1967, the company soon shifted its business model to the kitchen, producing high-performing metal cookware that was immediately embraced by chefs and individuals for use in restaurants, culinary schools and the home.

Each of the company’s products is a combination of metals, including American-made steel, that have been specially formulated and perfected to ensure the best results in the kitchen. With talented metallurgists and skilled metal artisans working together to design and build its cookware, All-Clad Metalcrafters is one of Pennsylvania’s stand-out companies in the metal manufacturing industry. 






all clad The Hill