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Labor Report

VA Employees File Suit Against Administration’s Latest Attempt to Block Union Functions

The Department of Veterans Affairs has become the latest major battlefield in the war between public-sector labor unions and those who seek to impair them. Last month, the nation’s largest civilian, non-postal federal employee union sued the Trump administration over its new ban on “official time” union activities at the VA.

“This year the president has launched several attacks against working people, with a heavy emphasis on targeting the women and men who have dedicated their lives to caring for our nation’s veterans,” said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a Nov. 15 news release.

The National Federation of Federal Employees and the National Association of Government Employees joined the AFGE in the lawsuit that named the VA and Secretary Robert Wilkie as defendants. Together, the unions represent more than 800,000 workers, mostly federal government employees. The AFGE alone represents 250,000 VA employees.

The complaint was filed in response to a Nov. 8 VA announcement that it would ban nearly 430 union officials from performing union-related work – such as collective bargaining and grievance functions – during their scheduled workdays. In its statement, the administration said it would “repudiate certain provisions of bargaining agreements (the) VA accepted during the Obama administration.”
Attempting to justify the action, the administration cited the “example” of an unidentified VA nurse and union rep who allegedly spends 100 percent of her shifts doing union work. However, the VA statement also references a fiscal 2016 report by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which calculated that the average bargaining unit employee uses less than three hours of official time per year. The full report can be viewed here.

In the lawsuit, the unions allege that the new VA policy violates workers’ rights to bargain collectively (by the VA’s own admission, “official time” is administered in accordance with the current labor contracts at the department). The lawsuit further cites an August federal appeals court ruling that struck down the president’s May executive order that sought to rein in the use of official time throughout the federal government.

Jefferson Health Becomes Latest Employer to Adopt a $15 Minimum Wage

Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health will become the newest private-sector employer to institute a $15 minimum wage when it gives raises to more than 1,800 workers across its 14 hospitals, Moss Rehab and Thomas Jefferson University starting in January 2019.

Jefferson officials disclosed the new policy to employees and announced it publicly late last month, following the lead of prominent national and international businesses like Amazon, Target, Walt Disney theme parks, Charter Communications and Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s.

“We take seriously our value of putting people first and the important role our employees play in delivering a great experience to those who choose us,” said Bruce A. Meyer, MD, MBA, President of Jefferson Health and Senior Executive Vice President of Thomas Jefferson University. “Providing fair and consistent pay is just the beginning of our efforts to enhance Jefferson’s benefits’ programs for our valued employees.”

As a result of acquisitions and mergers, Jefferson has grown its annual operating budget from $1.1 billion to $5.1 billion in the last five years and seen its complement of employees expand to more than 30,000. An additional 800 workers who are earning less than $18 an hour can also expect to get a raise in January, the company said.

Earlier in November, Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, similarly committed to a $15 minimum wage starting on January 1, which will mean a raise for about 10 percent of its 7,500 employees. Cooper Chairman George E. Norcross III went a step further and sent letters to the CEOs of other health systems in New Jersey and Southeastern PA calling on them to institute the $15 minimum.

Days after Jefferson’s announcement, the editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer added its voice on the subject, urging the Pennsylvania lawmakers to follow New Jersey’s lead and pass a $15 minimum wage in the next legislative session, which will begin on Jan. 1. PA has a $7.25 minimum wage and hasn’t raised it since 2006.

Philly Council Approves Fair Workweek Bill, $15 Minimum Wage

Philadelphia City Council has approved legislation that calls on businesses to make work schedules more predictable for their employees.

During its Dec. 6 session, council voted 14-3 to pass a “Fair Workweek" bill that requires companies in the city with more than 30 locations and 250 employees to provide workers with at least two weeks’ notice of their upcoming shifts, or else compensate them with supplemental “predictability pay” for any schedule changes within the two-week window.

Mayor Jim Kenney has supported the bill and is expected to sign it into law. According to, Philadelphia will become the nation’s second-largest city after New York to adopt worker scheduling legislation. One of the bill’s sponsors said it will directly affect about 130,000 workers, including many union members. The bill is expected to make its greatest impact in the retail, fast food, and hotel sectors.

During an Oct. 30 committee hearing on the bill, council members heard from a cook at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown who testified that her work schedule has been so unpredictable that she worked fewer hours in 2017 and made $5,000 less than the previous year, although she held the same job.

Workers claimed a second victory during the Dec. 6 session when Council voted unanimously to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for city workers and those employed by city contractors. Council last raised the wage to $12 in 2014.

Economic Growth Still Not Helping Low-Wage Americans or Pennsylvanians, New Study Shows

Median incomes are rising statewide and across the nation, yet those gains have not corresponded to lower poverty rates, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Morning Call.

Every five years, the Bureau issues its American Community Survey (ACS) estimating data for all counties, as well as all metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas. The new report covers the 2013-2017 period.

According to the Morning Call, inflation-adjusted median pay rose 8.7 percent nationwide for that period, compared to 2008-2012, while Pennsylvania saw just a two-percent raise. Yet, the national poverty rate fell by just two percent nationally (to 14.6 percent) and Pennsylvania’s poverty rate didn’t decline at all. It stayed at 13.1 percent.

Citing U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the newspaper further reported that the number of working-age recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, has increased by 10.5 percent nationally over the last five years, and a staggering 17 percent in Pennsylvania, where 648,528 people collect.

On a local level, the Morning Call found that food stamp recipients rose by 27 percent in Lehigh County and 23 percent in Northampton County. Data for every county in the nation is searchable via this interactive map published by the Census Bureau.

Experts interviewed by the newspaper offered various explanations for seemingly contradictory figures. Higher income inequality is likely driving the median income higher as individuals at the higher end of the scale are earning higher pay disproportionately faster. Pennsylvania’s average (mean) income is 37 percent higher than the median (a figure that represents the mid-point of the data set). Furthermore, while the state’s economy continues to add jobs, most of them tend to be in the lower-paying service sectors.

Corporate Tax Abatements Cost Public Schools Billions, New Analysis Shows

How much do corporate tax incentives cost the nation’s public schools? A new report released by a Washington, D.C., think tank concluded that schools lost out on at least $1.8 billion in funding as a result of economic development tax abatements granted by local governments.

And that’s not even half the story. The report by Good Jobs First only calculated figures for 5,600 of the nation’s 13,500 independent public school districts because thousands of districts reported no losses, despite new reporting requirements issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.

At least some districts reported in 28 states. Districts in 10 of those states lost a combined $1.6 billion in revenue. Pennsylvania ranked seventh-highest at just over $98 million. Philadelphia public schools reported $61.9 million in lost revenue, trailing only Hillsboro, Oregon, where Intel and many other high-tech companies are headquartered.

Spokesmen for the Philadelphia School District and the city administration each cautioned about the limited scope of the study.
“This study only looks at one side of the ledger, so it is impossible to comment on the net impact of these incentives,” schools spokesman H. Lee Whack Jr. told the news agency.

City spokesman Mike Dunn reportedly said the study does not appear to factor in “the value of enhanced development resulting from the incentives,” and that the city has commissioned its own study of tax credits.

The full Good Jobs First study is available here.

Chicago Teachers Launch Nation’s First Charter School Strike

A planned Chicago Teachers Union rally turned into a victory party on Sunday afternoon as more than 500 members and their advocates celebrated what CTU leaders described as a favorable conclusion to the nation’s first-ever charter school teachers’ strike.

“Today, our students and our families have won – bottom line,” said Andy Crooks, one of the bargaining units lead negotiators, during the rally at CTU headquarters.

Union officials said the tentative agreement reached with the management of Acero Schools just before 5 a.m. on Sunday will align pay for educators and paraprofessionals in the 15-school charter network with pay scales in place at Chicago’s traditional public schools. The agreement will also reduce class sizes at Acero and will reaffirm the network’s sanctuary school policy. Acero serves a largely Latino population. The agreement followed four school days of picketing by Acero teachers and staff.

Prior to the settlement the New York Times described the strike as a continuation of recent labor activism among teachers nationally: “The action is the latest mass teacher protest in a year when educators have closed ranks in places where organized labor has historically been weak – first in six conservative or swing states where teachers walked out of classrooms, and now in the charter school sector, where unionization is sparse.”

The teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff employed by Acero are represented by the 25,000-member Chicago Teachers Union, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate.

In a Dec. 5 news release, the CTU criticized Acero for accumulating a “stockpile (of) tens of millions of public dollars designated for students’ education instead of investing those funds in classrooms.”

The Times reported that Acero educators earn up to $13,000 less than their counterparts at traditional public schools in Chicago and that class sizes (up to 32 students per instructor) are larger. As part of a new labor contract, the union also sought commitments that Acero will operate as a sanctuary school network and that it will follow federal law in providing special education services.

November 2018 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate experienced no change from October to November 2018, remaining at 3.7%. Over the month, unemployment rolls decreased by 100,000 individuals, with total unemployment dipping slightly below 6 million. Unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 5,975,000
  • Change Over Month –   DOWN   100,000
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   641,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   1,667,000
  • Rate Change Over Month – no change
  • Rate Change Over Year –   DOWN   0.4%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   1.1%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   DOWN   3.2%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, remained unchanged over the month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the total number of employed individuals combined with the total number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Growth in the labor force can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. In November 2018, the national labor force grew by 133,000 individuals, a combination of total employment* rising by 233,000 individuals and total unemployment down by 100,000 individuals as noted above.

Since President Trump took office, the national labor force has grown by 3.052 million individuals (unemployment -1.667 million & employment +4.719 million). While this growth is encouraging, continued progress will be needed to match labor force growth seen over President Obama’s second term (3.955 million: unemployment -4.829 million & employment +8.784 million). National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 162,770,000
  • Change Over Month –  UP   133,000
  • Change Over Year - UP    2,237,000
  • Change Over Trump Term – UP   3,052,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term – UP   3,955,000

Non-farm* jobs grew by 155,000 over the month in November 2018, down from monthly growth of 237,000 in October 2018 and below economist’s projections of roughly 200,000. Thus far, average monthly non-farm job growth under President Trump stands at 191,000, 26,000 below average monthly growth of 217,000 seen over President Obama’s second term. National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Employment – 149,893,000
  • Change Over Month – UP   155,000
  • Change Over Year – UP   2,443,000
  • Change Over Trump Term – UP   4,197,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term – UP   10,414,000

*Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only.

October 2018 PA County Unemployment Ranking

(Seasonally adjusted; Source: PA Dept. of Labor & Industry; Statewide unemployment rate: 4.1 percent.)

Rank County Oct. 2018 Rate Sep. 2018 Rate Oct. 2017 Rate
T-1 Chester 3.3% 3.1% 3.5%
T-1 Cumberland 3.3% 3.2% 3.7%
T-3 Adams 3.4% 3.3% 3.6%
T-3 Centre 3.4% 3.3% 3.6%
T-3 Lancaster 3.4% 3.4% 3.8%
T-6 Montgomery 3.5% 3.4% 3.7%
T-6 Montour 3.5% 3.4% 3.8%
T-8 Franklin 3.7% 3.7% 4.1%
T-8 Perry 3.7% 3.8% 4.2%
T-10 Bucks 3.8% 3.7% 4.1%
T-10 Union 3.8% 3.8% 4.1%
T-10 York 3.8% 3.8% 4.2%
T-13 Butler 3.9% 3.9% 4.4%
T-13 Elk 3.9% 3.8% 4.5%
T-13 Lebanon 3.9% 3.8% 4.1%
T-13 Snyder 3.9% 4.0% 4.4%
T-17 Dauphin 4.0% 3.9% 4.3%
T-17 Delaware 4.0% 3.9% 4.4%
T-17 Juniata 4.0% 4.0% 4.4%
T-20 Allegheny 4.1% 4.0% 4.5%
T-20 Susquehanna 4.1% 4.1% 4.5%
T-22 Berks 4.3% 4.3% 4.5%
T-22 Blair 4.3% 4.3% 4.6%
T-22 Bradford 4.3% 4.3% 4.9%
T-22 Washington 4.3% 4.2% 4.9%
T-26 Fulton 4.4% 4.3% 4.8%
T-26 Northampton 4.4% 4.4% 4.7%
T-26 Westmoreland 4.4% 4.4% 4.9%
T-29 Beaver 4.5% 4.4% 5.3%
T-29 Bedford 4.5% 4.6% 4.9%
T-31 Crawford 4.6% 4.6% 5.2%
T-31 Lackawanna 4.6% 4.5% 4.9%
T-31 Warren 4.6% 4.3% 5.3%
T-31 Wyoming 4.6% 4.6% 5.0%
T-35 Erie 4.7% 4.5% 5.5%
T-35 Jefferson 4.7% 4.7% 5.3%
T-35 Lehigh 4.7% 4.6% 4.9%
T-35 Mercer 4.7% 4.7% 5.1%
T-35 Wayne 4.7% 4.6% 4.9%
T-40 Columbia 4.8% 4.8% 5.1%
T-40 Mifflin 4.8% 4.8% 5.1%
T-42 Armstrong 4.9% 4.7% 5.6%
T-42 Cameron 4.9% 4.7% 6.6%
T-42 Lycoming 4.9% 5.0% 5.4%
T-42 McKean 4.9% 4.7% 5.7%
T-42 Sullivan 4.9% 4.7% 5.6%
T-42 Venango 4.9% 4.6% 5.5%
T-48 Clarion 5.0% 4.7% 5.4%
T-48 Greene 5.0% 5.0% 5.5%
T-50 Carbon 5.1% 5.1% 5.2%
T-50 Indiana 5.1% 4.9% 5.6%
T-52 Clearfield 5.2% 5.2% 5.5%
T-52 Lawrence 5.2% 5.0% 5.8%
T-52 Monroe 5.2% 5.3% 5.7%
T-52 Schuylkill 5.2% 5.2% 5.6%
T-52 Somerset 5.2% 5.3% 5.8%
T-52 Tioga 5.2% 5.1% 5.7%
T-58 Cambria 5.3% 5.3% 5.9%
T-58 Huntingdon 5.3% 5.5% 5.5%
T-58 Northumberland 5.3% 5.2% 5.5%
T-58 Pike 5.3% 5.4% 5.7%
T-62 Clinton 5.4% 5.3% 6.1%
T-62 Philadelphia 5.4% 5.3% 6.1%
64 Luzerne 5.5% 5.4% 5.7%
65 Potter 5.7% 5.1% 6.0%
66 Fayette 5.8% 5.7% 6.5%
67 Forest 6.4% 6.2% 6.6%