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Labor Report

Wolf Budget Turning Heads

BudgetThat big gulp (or was it a gasp?) you heard this week was Pennsylvania reacting to newly installed Gov. Tom Wolf proposal of a $29.9 billion budget for 2015-2016.

I believe we should expect the knee-jerk reactions – on both sides – because many of the ideas the governor is espousing are groundbreaking and would deliver a sea change in state governing, if they are approved by lawmakers.

The governor reiterated his call for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 (two bills would do this: mine, Senate Bill 195; and Rep. Patty Kim’s House Bill 250), and he said he wants us to close the Delaware loophole (my SB 274 would accomplish that).

I also like his ideas to reform the onerous property tax system and to restore/revamp funding for education. His proposals to help Philadelphia taxpayers (many of them are my constituents) are also positive.

The governor’s tax reform ideas have many detractors – especially Republicans – who are running back to their hackneyed “tax-and-spend” mantra, but I think it is too soon for that. When all of us look more closely at what has been placed on the table before us, we could better understand that his ideas really will fix the systemic problems that have been dragging down Pennsylvania.

Make no mistake, however: this is going to be a difficult task to get this budget to the June 30 finish line.

Unemployment for FebruaryJobs

It’s a lower unemployment number than January, but that might be all the good news that can be gleaned from the fact that the nationwide unemployment rate dipped from 5.7 percent to 5.5 percent.

Why? Fewer people were looking for work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, so they were not counted in the monthly jobless figure.

And, what continues a troubling theme: wages are about as cold as the weather.

“Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3 cents to $24.78. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.0 percent,” Labor’s press release reads.

In Pennsylvania, our caucus analysts say, “PA’s latest labor force total is down by 40,500 year-over-year, and still remains lower than it was in January 2011 due to the failed leadership of the Corbett administration. What’s more, the national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in February is now down by 3.7 percent since January 2011, whereas PA’s rate has declined by 2.9 percent over the same time.”

PA Businesses Getting Vocal About Need for Minimum WageWage

Every week I tell you about a company that values its employees and is paying their base hourly workers more than the government-mandated $7.25 minimum wage. So I was really pleased to learn about group that is galvanizing Pennsylvania business owners who support increasing the entry-level rate.

“Business for a Fair Minimum Wage” has helped to increase the minimums in New York, Maryland and Massachusetts and it is continuing its fight to push the federal rate to $10.10.

The BFMW website gives businesses a place to “sign on” to the job, if they haven’t already done so.

Check it out. You’ll see some of the Pennsylvania headlines and activities, and its resources tab provides some polling and historical evidence to help you back up your support of higher base hourly rates for our hardworking employees.

Republican Anti-Union Watch

DomeThe Pennsylvania Senate defeated a Republican amendment by Sen. John Eichelberger to Senate Bill 501 that would have stripped language dealing with union membership and “fair share” fees and left only language dealing with “political contributions” in the proposal.

But Sen. Jay Costa rightly called the amendment premature as SB 501 has not yet been considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and it fell 24-24. Still, the so-called “paycheck protection” legislation remains alive as Sen. Jake Corman won a reconsideration vote.

Paycheck protection and “right to work” are the anti-union buzzwords. Pennsylvania is doing its fair share to keep the former, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is driving the right-to-work debate.

Even though it might seem, at times, that unions are on the brink of extinction, there are some actions that can be taken to save labor groups – and make them stronger.

The Washington Post’s Lydia DePillis delivered three ideas this week in her “Wonkblog:”

#1 – Allow for members-only unions
#2 – Pass more laws that generally protect workers’ rights
#3 – Work harder to prove the value of unions

DePillis properly describes the nut of the problem this way: “As more and more workers benefit from a collective bargaining without paying for its upkeep, unions have become weaker, which lessens the incentive to join. The resulting tailspin, writ large, has been primarily responsible for the massive decline in unionization over the past half-century — making the struggle to stave off right-to-work laws a fight for union survival.”

One more Republican assault on unions happened this week in the U.S. Senate when the GOP-led chamber approved a bill that would do away with the schedule for when a union asks to represent workers and when those workers vote on that request.

The rule was created by the National Labor Relations Board.

Supporters of the proposal, obviously, are seeking to give companies more time to dampen union energy and build their case against certification.

It’s likely this proposal will be vetoed by President Obama, but it is one more Republican attempt to discredit – and not pay – workers.