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Labor Report

Budget Hearing Takeaways

CapitolThe Senate Appropriations Committee’s season of budget hearings ended last Wednesday. Thinking about the testimony this week from the top executives of Revenue and the PA Lottery, PennDOT, Ag, and the Historical & Museum Commission, I’ve come to some conclusions:

Despite their promises, Republicans cannot – or will not – see Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposals as necessary, nonpartisan solutions to problems that were created during the past four years or longer.

Insisting that the governor’s proposed property tax reductions would only help districts with high concentrations of Democrats doesn’t make sense because existing statutes and formulas would dictate how Democratic and Republican property owners would equally benefit if the $3.8 billion property tax program cuts these onerous bills in half.

And, despite claims to the contrary, the governor’s property tax proposal is allowed by the PA constitution.

A real bright spot of the new Wolf administration was shared by acting Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, who testified that his department will be increasing funding for the State Food Purchase Program by an additional $3 million, which will help food banks and pantries. The money will help some 2 million Pennsylvanians who are at risk for hunger.

Better reasons emerged this week about why the commonwealth must continue to own and operate the Pennsylvania Lottery. We heard from gaming agency officials who said more than 60 percent of adult Pennsylvania residents played a lottery game during the past year. And the best way to expand lottery revenue is to expand the availability of games.

The lottery is talking with the Pa. Liquor Control Board to place games in stores across the commonwealth. It’s a great demonstration of how we can get Pennsylvania’s public assets to work together.

McMinimum Wage Increase?Dollar

Some say it’s not enough, but I think McDonald’s decision this week to begin paying some of its minimum wage earners more money is a positive step, although overdue.

Wages will go up to about $9.90 an hour July 1 for workers at 1,500 of the stores McDonald’s operates itself in the U.S. – that covers about 90,000 workers.

The announcement is important because employees and communities have kept a steady dose of pressure on the burger-maker to raise its minimum wage. What people still don’t like about the news, however, is 750,000 people work at company- and franchisee-owned restaurants.

I like the increase because – like Republicans recently acknowledged in Pennsylvania – it represents the admission of a problem that needs to be addressed. Analysts are also predicting the McDonald’s increase will force other fast-food eateries to follow suit.

Exhibit "A" in Need to Modernize Wage Laws

If you’ve wondered why I proposed Senate Bill 198 to modernize Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law, look no further than the City of Brotherly Love for the best answer. A Philadelphia-based farm labor contractor has become the latest example of unscrupulous employers who have legitimized my legislation for stronger wage laws and enforcement practices.Check

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported March 31 that Heng Heng Agency Inc. was being ordered by the federal Department of Labor to pay a $146,000 fine for only paying 125 of its nursery workers $6.25 an hour. The minimum wage, paltry as it is, is $7.25 an hour, and nursery workers to do not work for tips.

“Investigators from the Labor Department also found other labor law violations at Heng Heng, the department said, including failure to maintain proper records, obtain required insurance coverage, and provide safe transportation vehicles,” the Inquirer story said.

My SB 198 would increase recordkeeping requirements for employers and enforcement duties of the state Department of Labor & Industry. It would also allow employees to receive back wages and two times those wages in damages.

Obama Veto One for Unions

WorkersWith all of the union-busting efforts of GOP lawmakers, it’s good President Obama is still in the White House.

The president this week vetoed a Republican-led proposal that would have further weakened labor groups:

“President Obama vetoed a GOP-backed resolution Tuesday that would halt a National Labor Relations Board rule making it easier for workers to hold so-called ‘ambush’ union-organizing elections,” the Washington Times reported on Tuesday.

“Republicans and leading business lobbies say the NLRB rule would permit ‘ambush’ elections which give employers little time to make a counterargument to their employees after learning of an organizing drive. Union leaders counter that employers have been guilty of legal and regulatory delaying tactics that effectively deny workers a chance for a timely vote on whether to organize.”

Fair Wage Business of the Week

Night KitchenNight Kitchen Bakery and Café, located in Philadelphia, PA, has joined Businesses for a Fair Minimum Wage and Pennsylvania Businesses for a Fair Minimum Wage in support of higher pay for residents in the commonwealth and across the nation.  The owners of Night Kitchen, along with their fellow fair wage co-signers, recognize that no one should be living in poverty while working forty hours per week.

Night Kitchen is an employer that understands and supports the financial wellbeing of all employees, and it is a business with an environmental conscience and sense of public responsibility, as well.  The owners of this bakery believe you get what you give, and they never stop giving back through their business planning, designs and strategies, along with their monetary donations to local environmental and humanitarian organizations.

Whether you’re satisfying a sweet tooth, in need of light fare or seeking artisanal baked goods to impress a crowd, Night Kitchen Bakery and Café has the perfect selection of products for every occasion and has been serving Philadelphians for more than 30 years.  Next time you’re in the area, I encourage you to stop by this local shop for more than good food.  With every bite, you’ll be helping to make Pennsylvania a better, fairer place.