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Labor Report

Budget Hearing Takeaway: PLCB

LiquorAs Republicans re-start their inexplicable mission to sell off one of Pennsylvania’s best assets – its liquor store system – it was good to ask questions of the PA Liquor Control Board this week during Senate budget hearings. We heard members of the majority party praise the PLCB for its work.

We also heard Sen. Randy Vulakovich say we should waste no time and modernize the stores, as the PLCB board members said they have been slowly doing for the past five years.

“If we’re going to privatize, we privatize. In the meantime, we shouldn’t be waiting. We should be doing the modernization to get it in there and try to work this right,” he said.

But if all it takes is modernization to alleviate some of the pressure on rising operational costs so the PLCB can generate more revenue for the commonwealth, privatization shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion.

Here are the highlights of my questions to the PLCB:

UFCWQ: To the employees of the PLCB, you are the best employees that anyone could ask for. They’re the ones that do the control. They’re the ones that do the work. And you should feel very, very lucky to have Local 1776 in your stores.

How much of your inventory is from PA or PA Preferred?

PLCB Executive Director John Metzger: “Senator, the dollar value, on average in the stores in the state is Pennsylvania produced … is approximately 5 percent. If you’ve been in our stores in the last few months, you’ve seen that we’ve changed the stores, took away the PA/NY section and now it’s a Pennsylvania-only section. We’re also not just highlighting wines made in Pennsylvania but also distilleries. That’s a rapid part of the growing business here in Pennsylvania.”

Q: Do they get special shelf space?

Metzger: “Yes. If you go into our new branded stores … you’ll see the PA section in the front, on the right side, so you can’t miss it when you come in the store.”

Q: When you say rebranding, how does that happen?

Metzger: “First thing we look at is stores needing relocation. As we relocate, we’re taking the opportunity to get bigger stores where we’re creating a warmer environment with the colorations in the stores, the shelving in the stores, the presentation of product to the consumers in the stores. What we’re also doing is going to the older, smaller stores and doing the same type of approach in terms of repainting the stores, improving the merchandise, so the consumers can find the product easier.”

Q: And it’s your employees doing that?

Metzger: “Yes they are, and they are doing a terrific job.”

From the Shirtwaist Ashes

FactoryMarch 25 was a day to solemnly remember for labor and human rights advocates. It was the dawn of the Department of Labor and interest in workers’ safety, dignity and fair wages for all working Americans.

On that day in 1911, fire ripped through the 10-story Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City and killed 146 workers, most of them women and making 13 cents an hour in oppressive working conditions.

As The New York Times reported in its March 26 edition:

“Some of them escaped by running down the stairs, but in a moment or two this avenue was cut off by flame.

The girls rushed to the windows and looked down at Greene Street, 100 feet below them. Then one poor, little creature jumped. There was a plate glass protection over part of the sidewalk, but she crashed through it, wrecking it and breaking her body into a thousand pieces.

Then they all began to drop. The crowd yelled ‘Don't jump!’ but it was jump or be burned -- the proof of which is found in the fact that fifty burned bodies were taken from the ninth floor alone.”

While there’s a minimum wage argument to be made here, the Phoenix that arose from these deadly ashes came in the form of new laws that required better treatment of American workers.

The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ union had successfully earned Triangle Shirtwaist workers better wages, but the factory owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, chose not to acknowledge the union or update any of its safety measures.

The women died in the fast-burning fire because exit doors were locked and fire escapes were too few.

But it was because of ILGW’s work and the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory that laws changed and workers were better protected.

Harris and Blanck were not the best examples of human beings. In an “aftermath” piece, the U.S. Department of Labor wrote that the duo actually profited from the blaze.

“Three years later, after several civil trials, the men settled at a rate of $75 per life. An insurance policy, however, paid Harris and Blanck about $400 per life lost. The men pocketed about $60,000 by the end of the ordeal.”

Sweatshops Still Live

SweatshopIt could be argued that sweatshops like the one that occupied the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory don’t exist today. It cannot be argued that bad work environments do exist.

Human Rights Watch issued a report this week showing that Cambodian sweatshops are churning out a lot of product for American companies like Gap and H&M.

“Human Rights Watch documented labor rights abuses in both export-oriented factories and subcontractor factories in Cambodia. These include forced overtime and retaliation against those who sought exemption from overtime, lack of rest breaks, denial of sick leave, use of underage child labor, and the use of union-busting strategies to thwart independent unions. In addition, women workers faced pregnancy-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and denial of maternity benefits,” said the report’s summary.

The Cambodian government bears the responsibility of changing the laws that deal with working conditions. We can think twice about what we’re buying when we’re shopping at a mall for clothes.

Fair Wage Business of the Week

CheckIn the ongoing battle to raise wages for our hardest working, lowest paid employees, a growing number of U.S. business owners have signed onto a federal petition in support of a fair minimum wage. These are regular, every day employers who recognize that employees working full-time should not be living in poverty; that workers should be earning salaries compensable with their work efforts and that every employee deserves a regular raise. 

Consider this: the minimum wage was last increased by the federal government in 2009, and the Pennsylvania Legislature last passed a minimum wage increase in 2006. Tipped workers have waited even longer for a raise in their base salary…more than 15 years.

As this issue has proliferated, reaching workers and legislatures across the nation, the network of companies who believe a higher minimum wage makes sense, known as Businesses for a Fair Minimum Wage, has grown substantially. Further, a number of Pennsylvania businesses have been joining the cause.

In fact, there are so many employers in the commonwealth who favor a higher minimum wage that they have formed their own sub-network: Pennsylvania Businesses for a Fair Minimum Wage.

With the unity and support of these businesses, along with the efforts of coalitions, organizations, elected officials and workers in the state, I am hopeful Pennsylvanians will see a minimum wage increase in their near future.  Each employer who joins our cause brings us one step closer to accomplishing our goal—more reasonable pay for the people doing the work.

For more information about or to join these business networks in support of a minimum wage increase, please follow the links below.