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Labor Report



“Thanksgiving is a time to cherish the company of our families and friends, while showing our appreciation for our blessings and sharing our good fortune with others. On the eve of this holiday, I wish all Pennsylvanians a Happy Thanksgiving!”

– State Sen. Christine Tartaglione

Gov. Wolf Launches PAsmart Grant Program for Tech Ed, Apprenticeships and Job Training

The application window is now open, but will soon close, for $30 million in state grants that are available for investment in K-12 computer science and STEM education programs, registered apprenticeships, and job training with Industry Partnership programs.

In announcing the launch of PAsmart earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf said the grant program will help Pennsylvania have “the most prepared and talented workforce in the country, which will help businesses succeed, grow the middle class, and strengthen the economy for everyone.”
Created on the recommendations of the governor’s Middle Class Task Force comprised of business, education, labor, and workforce development leaders, PAsmart seeks to equip workers with new skills and train them to fill available jobs in contemporary employment sectors, positions that may not necessitate four-year college degrees.

“The competitive grants will expand classroom instruction and professional development in the fast-growing fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and computer science (CS), as well as training for in-demand careers, emerging industries, and underserved populations,” the governor’s office stated.
Application windows will close on Dec. 14 for K-12 computer science and STEM programs, Dec. 14 for Industry Partnership programs, and Dec. 21 for apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. For more information, frequently asked questions and application materials, visit

Will PA Workers Finally Get a Minimum Wage Raise in 2019?

As workers and lawmakers look forward to the 2019-20 legislative session, a prominent Harrisburg-based labor economist and researcher has articulated the economic and political factors that are likely to impact efforts to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.

In an opinion piece published by PennLive, Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center noted that voters in Missouri and Arkansas approved statewide minimum wage raises on Election Day. And the votes weren’t even close. Sixty-two percent of Missourians supported a raise from $7.85 per hour to $12 for the state’s lowest-paid workers. In Arkansas, 68 percent voted to raise the wage from $8.50 to $11.

Yet, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage remains at $7.25, the federal minimum, for most workers and $2.83 for tipped workers. PA lawmakers haven’t passed a minimum wage raise since 2006. A KRC poll earlier this year found that 62 percent of Pennsylvanians support raising the minimum wage to at least $12.

Since 2006, the regional consumer price index has shown a 19 percent increase in the price of food, 22 percent in rent and 18 percent in private transportation costs.

Columbia Finally Offers to Negotiate with University’s Grad Student Union

More than two years after their National Labor Relations Board certification, unionized graduate students of Columbia University in New York City have been formally recognized as a legal bargaining unit by the university.

In a Nov. 19 statement posted on the university website, Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost John H. Coatsworth announced they had reached a “framework agreement” with representatives from the United Auto Workers to guide negotiations toward a collective bargaining agreement covering wages, hours, and other working conditions.

The university officials described the framework agreement as “mutual” between the parties, yet a union bargaining committee member told the university’s independent newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, that union members have yet to adopt the agreement via a rank-and-file vote.

Bargaining would begin no later than Feb. 26, 2019, while the union would not strike “or otherwise disrupt Columbia’s operations” before April 6, 2020, under the terms of the framework agreement. The union previously held a week-long strike last spring and had set a deadline of Dec. 4 for another strike of indefinite duration in the absence of contract talks.

The Spectator described the school’s statement as “a massive victory for graduate student organizers, who first earned the legal right to unionize in a 2016 court case and voted to form a union in the months that followed. For nearly two years, Columbia has refused to bargain with the graduate student union—arguing that graduate students should be legally recognized as students rather than workers—even as peer schools like Harvard and Brown agreed to bargain with graduate unions on their campuses.”

In August 2016, the NLRB reversed a prior board precedent involving a similar case at Brown University, and granted employee status to Columbia’s graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, as well as graduate and departmental research assistants.

Similar disputes over the ability of student workers to seek union representation have been waged at Pennsylvania universities including Penn State, Pittsburgh and Temple in recent months.


As Sears Closes Stores and Lays Off Thousands, Top Executives Seek Bankruptcy Bonuses

One week after announcing a plan to close dozens more Sears and Kmart stores as part of its bankruptcy reorganization, Sears Holdings Corporation petitioned bankruptcy court to approve millions of dollars in quarterly bonuses to top executives.

Sears Holdings outlined two proposed bonus plans in Nov. 15 court filings, according to CNN. One plan would pay 18 “key” executives up to $2.1 million every three months ($8.5 million per year) collectively during the bankruptcy process. A second “retention” bonus plan would encourage 322 unnamed executives to stay with the company through reorganization. They would be eligible for a combined $16.9 million in annual bonuses.

Some executives could collect higher bonuses if the company were to go out of business, than if it were to survive bankruptcy.

“Three top executives could get nearly $1 million each if the company goes out of business. If Sears remains in business, they could get nearly $500,000 each for hitting the top performance targets,” CNN reported.

A hearing on the bonus plans is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Meanwhile, the company has been laying off thousands of workers as it proceeds with store closings. Since August 2018, it has closed or announced plans to close 228 stores across the nation. At the time of its October 2018 bankruptcy filing, Sears Holdings operated 700 stores, down from about 2,000 locations five years ago.

Some employees claim they have been denied portions of severance packages they were promised, or that they were laid off without severances.

Boston Marriott Workers Settle, Thousands More Remain on Strike Elsewhere

About 3,000 striking employees of Marriott International have returned to work after reaching new labor agreements with the Maryland-based hospitality company in several American cities, but about 5,000 are still walking the picket lines.

Hundreds of Unite Here Local 26 members in Boston were expected to return to work on Nov. 21 just in time for the Thanksgiving travel rush after they voted four days earlier to ratify the company’s latest contract offer, according to the Boston Globe. Union leaders declined to discuss details of the new pact because of ongoing strikes in other cities.

“We have taken a tremendous step forward in the direction of one job being enough for hotel workers in this city,” Local 26 President Brian Lang said.

Marriott employees in Boston, Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Hawaii walked off the job in October seeking better wages, rules protecting them from sexual harassment and protections from being replaced by technology. Workers have also complained that an employee credit union run by company executives pummels them with abnormally high banking fees.

“Today’s agreement provides historic job security protections along with a wage and benefits package that significantly raises the standard for hotel workers struggling to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.,” Unite Here stated in a Nov. 17 news release.

Boston’s mayor and the Massachusetts governor refused to cross the picket lines, the union said, while the City Council passed a resolution urging city employees not to patronize hotels where workers were on strike.