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Labor Report

CapitolPensions, Minimum Wage, Booze

Leading Republican lawmakers continue to say that pension reform is a top priority, so as we return to Harrisburg on Monday for the final budget push, I want to add my comments to the task before us and remind leaders that there is at least one more big issue that must finally be settled.

As I’ve articulated before, Senate Bill 1’s design on pension reform is a mistake and risks growing the unfunded $53 billion pension gap with the SERS and PSERS retirement funds. Not only is it a mistake, it is unconstitutional because it would punish the very teachers and state employees who have been holding up their end of the contract every paycheck.

I have no reservation about the seriousness of the pension problem, but rushing a bad bill only threatens to make state government’s financial situation markedly dire.

What we should be running straight to the governor’s office are my proposals to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by January and up the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the regular base hourly rate.

As a rather balanced hearing last month showed – and as every state that has already increased the minimum wage has proven – giving frontline workers a pay raise after years of not getting one is the right thing to do for everyone involved.

Of course, the 4,000 men and women who work in our state liquor store system make much more than minimum wage – but their jobs are the ones that are truly in jeopardy as Republicans continue to push for privatization of the state store concept.

I am against privatization and for modernization. Simple as that.

A bill that would allow the shipment of wine and spirits to your home is now before my Senate Law & Justice Committee after being overwhelmingly approved by the House. I think that’s one of the good examples of how modernization can be done in Pennsylvania.

HelpApril Joblessness

It’s safe to say people are feeling more optimistic about the direction of the Pennsylvania and national economies, just don’t look to April’s unemployment report for affirmation.

The number of unemployed Pennsylvania workers ticked up in April to 339,637 and that kept our jobless number unchanged from March at 5.3 percent. Of course, the number of Pennsylvanians working also increased – to 5.84 million.

Compared to our neighbors, we still are next-to-last in new percentage job growth compared to this time last year and the commonwealth is 36th in the country for that favorite benchmark of positive economic activity.

One other bright spot rests at Gov. Tom Wolf’s feet: since taking office in January, PA has added 30,000 new jobs, ranking it 18th among all 50 states (and ahead of all its neighboring states) in that category, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry.

Helping Pennsylvanians

LaborL&I’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, and the Advisory Committee for the Blind of Pennsylvania will host the 2015 Blindness Awareness Expo in the Main Rotunda of the Capitol next Tuesday, June 2, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Expo visitors will be encouraged to explore how Pennsylvanians who are blind or visually impaired overcome challenges in education, employment, and independence. Simulations of varying visual impairments will be offered, while other vendors and organizations will have hands-on demonstrations with guide dogs, tools, and services that facilitate living with a visual impairment.

Also that day, I’ll be teaming with the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation during a 1 p.m. press conference to encourage increased support for people who need help getting to school, work, and around.

Soccer's Labor Underbelly

It’s not every week you’ll read about soccer in this space – but the FIFA allegations of bribery and corruptions caught my attention when the U.S. Justice Department came down hard on top officials in fútbol’s governing body.

What’s especially galling is the labor abuses associated with the construction of multimillion-dollar soccer stadiums in Qatar; a place that is known more for its 120-degree temperatures than its soccer.

A more appropriate term for what’s happening in Qatar would be “labor concentration camps.”

There was one worker death in the buildup to the London Olympics in 2012, one worker death on the 2010 Vancouver games, and six worker deaths in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. ALREADY in Qatar, there have been thousands of worker deaths.

ChartA stunning Washington Post chart brings this atrocity into perfect, gasping focus:

And the Qatar games – if they happen at all now – are not until 2022.

Talk about injustice.

Not only are the Nepalese workers who are building the stadiums and hotels dying, they are being denied basic human rights, as The Daily Beast reported this week.

“The first-person accounts in the report are the stuff of nightmares. And yet, this indentured servitude is entirely legal under Qatar’s kafala system, in which an employer has near-total control over the lives of the migrant workers that are fed false promises regarding living conditions, nonexistent safety protocols, wages, and length of employment, and can be kept enslaved by withholding both salaries and passports.”