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Apprentice Applause

It was great to be before a small ocean of construction apprentices this week in the Capitol Rotunda; all of them wearing different colored t-shirts representing the unions and jobs they are proud to call their own.

The Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council organized the event, as it does every year, and I urged students and others to participate in its apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeship RallyIn the next 20 years, Pennsylvania’s construction industry will need about 50,000 new workers to replace the men and women who today are masons, electricians, glaziers, pipe layers and roofers.

The people who will make up that new workforce stood with me at the rally.

Union apprenticeship programs lead to good-paying, long-lasting, successful careers in the construction industry where there is a high demand for skilled workers now and in the future.

There are about 7,000 construction apprentices registered in Pennsylvania today and 82 percent of them, or 6,570, are unionized construction apprentices.

Without new workers to fill openings in the industry, we will not be able to continue the important and necessary work. Union apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship training programs make sense because they offer a promising career for young people and they help secure jobs in high demand that pay good wages.

Minimum Wage Target

If Pennsylvania continues on its sad pace to increase its minimum wage, it could soon be paying half of what most other states are planning to pay frontline employees who live and work within their borders.

min WageFormer Secretary of Labor Robert Reich this week applauded Seattle’s recent decision to require employers to eventually pay minimum wage workers $15 an hour, and he backed up his proclamation with many of the same sound bits of evidence that I have been sharing, especially as it addresses employment impact:

“My guess is Seattle’s businesses will adapt without any net loss of employment,” Reich wrote. “Seattle’s employers will also have more employees to choose from – as the $15 minimum attracts into the labor force some people who otherwise haven’t been interested. That means they’ll end up with workers who are highly reliable and likely to stay longer, resulting in real savings.”

Pennsylvania’s governor is talking more about the “job gains” that have recently contributed to the decline in our unemployment rate to 5.7 percent.

USA Today’s editors think there’s an ugly underbelly to the drop in unemployment here and nationally.

While noting the recovery of the 8.7 million jobs that the recession devoured and a national unemployment rate (6.3 percent) that matches 2008’s, the newspaper also said this:

“These numbers, while significant milestones, don't tell the whole story. The new record of 138.5 million people in the workforce doesn't account for population growth. And the falling unemployment rate is driven not just by more people working, but also by more people giving up the search,” the editorial explained.

The national labor force participation rate, the newspaper noted, is 62.8 percent. Pennsylvania’s rate in 2014’s first quarter was 62.6 percent. That’s a tick higher than last quarter’s 62.4 percent labor force participation rate, but lower than the first quarter of 2013 (63.2 percent) and 2012 (63.2 percent).

Probably explains why a low unemployment rate number makes few of us giddy.

On Target

TargetHeartened to learn this week that Target is working Obama-like to ensure that the people their vendors employ are treated fairly.

The retailer will be requiring companies it contracts with to allow their workers to organize, if they desire, follow wage and hour laws, and to bargain with their employees under the stipulation they do not strike.

Without the custodians and clean-up people who work every day to make sure stores are shiny and like-new, customers eventually get the message they are not worth the effort. These employees must be treated responsibly and commensurate with the importance of the job.

Bloomberg Business called Target’s decision “a potentially precedent-setting policy.”

Made in PA

Are you a member of a great union and want some publicity? Let me know! We’ll highlight your labor group, company, and the Made in PA product or service that makes you proud right here in my weekly Labor Report.