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Labor Report

Minimum Wage Issue Gaining Attention, Momentum

When Senator Tartaglione introduced new legislation earlier this month to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, it sparked a renewed flurry of news media coverage across the state and beyond, involving traditional and non-traditional outlets. Senate Bill 1044 proposes to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour immediately for non-tipped workers, and from $2.83 to $9 immediately for tipped workers. The bill would further raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour ($12 for tipped workers) by 2024. And it would mandate annual cost of living adjustments from 2025 forward. It would enact Pennsylvania’s first minimum wage raise since 2006.

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Supporters make another push for minimum wage hike

The media coverage spanned network television, radio, public broadcasting, daily newspapers here and here as well as community weekly papers.

The reporting crossed state lines too, as outlets in Ohio, West Virginia and New Jersey all covered the story.

Since Senator Tartaglione’s announcement, Gov. Tom Wolf has called for a minimum wage raise in his 2018-19 budget proposal. And commentators have continued to draw attention to the hardships faced by many working families due to Pennsylvania’s minimum wage stagnation.

As Senator Tartaglione stated during her Feb. 5 news conference at the Capitol: “For far too long, many Pennsylvanians have had to manage with far too little. The minimum wage isn’t about giving a handout. It’s about giving a hand up.”

Click here to read the full text of SB 1044.

Pittsburgh Teachers Authorize Strike, Negotiations Ongoing

ClassroomAccording to a report in the Post-Gazette members of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if the local union is unable to reach a contract agreement with the city’s public school district. Leaders of the 3,000-member local were scheduled to resume negotiations with the district on Friday, Feb. 16.

Ninety-four percent of members participated in the vote. The results were announced on Monday with 2,309 members in favor of the strike authorization and 144 against. Pittsburgh teachers haven’t gone on strike since an eight-week walkout in December 1975 and January 1976.

The local union’s most recent five-year contract expired in June 2015. A contract extension expired last June. Teachers have been working without a contract since then. Their contested issues include wage parity for early-childhood teachers, raises for athletic coaches, teacher scheduling authority and class size reductions.

The PFT (Local 400) is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. To read the local’s official statement on the authorization vote, click here.

NLRB Affirms Union Eligibility for Penn State Grad Students

Graduate teaching and research assistants at Penn State University have the right to unionize according to a new National Labor Relations Board ruling that confirmed the student workers’ employee status.

Penn StateThe Coalition of Graduate Employees at PSU announced the NLRB action on Feb. 9, stating that the ruling paves the way for a unionization election among about 3,700 graduate assistants at the university.

“We’re looking forward to exercising our right to vote, and we’re confident that it’s a vote we’ll win,” said Katie Warczak, media officer for CGE.

The ruling followed a week-long NLRB hearing held in September, during which the university reportedly argued that the graduate assistants should not be classified as employees under the Pennsylvania Public Employee Relations Act. An election date has not been set. Unionization will be decided by a simple majority vote.

Penn State may join a growing list of American universities where graduate students have organized to push for better pay and health insurance, to fight federal taxation on tuition waivers and to advocate for social issues on campus.

Shannon Ikebe, a spokesperson for the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions, stated that grad students have unionized at more than 40 U.S. institutions, according to a report by Local unions often affiliate with American Federation of Teachers, American Association of University Professors, Service Employees International Union or United Auto Workers.

Graduate assistants are already unionized at Temple University, while about 2,000 graduate assistants at the University of Pittsburgh petitioned the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in December to hold a unionization vote.

Click here to read Post-Gazette coverage.

PA Supreme Court Reviewing Eight Congressional Map Plans

MapDays before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to determine new boundaries for the state’s 18 Congressional districts, state Senate and House Democrats have each offered their own map recommendations for the court’s review.

The two legislative caucuses are among seven parties that formulated a total of eight map proposals. A group of Democratic voters whose lawsuit sparked the court’s remapping order submitted two different proposals. State Senate and House Republicans jointly submitted a single map, as did Gov. Tom Wolf, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack and a group of Republican voters who intervened in the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court has given itself a Feb. 19 deadline to choose one of the recommended maps or to formulate its own version. The court has retained a Stanford University law professor who has helped to re-draw legislative districts in several other states.

If the court meets its deadline, the new map could be in place in time for the May 15 Congressional primary election. But the Senate Republican leadership has said it plans to contest the PA Supreme Court-imposed map in the federal courts.

Click here for a report on the status of remapping.

Click here for analysis of the eight proposals.