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Labor Report

Public Sector Unions Facing Legal Hit in U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case filed on behalf of an Illinois child support specialist who doesn’t want to contribute financially to the collective bargaining unit that advocates for him and 40,000 other state employees in contract negotiations and grievance proceedings.

Supreme CourtCommentators from across the political spectrum are framing Janus vs. AFSCME as a landmark case that could have a lasting impact on the ability of public-sector labor unions to collect “fair share” agency fees from dissenting workers – that is, those workers who don’t wish to be members of a union but who nonetheless benefit from the better wages, benefits, workplace conditions and employee rights that collective bargaining ensures. The case is expected to impact more than five million state and municipal workers in the 22 U.S. states including Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia where unions command fair share fees.

Attorneys for the plaintiff (who assumed a lead role in the case only after a federal court ruled that the original plaintiff – Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner – had no standing) argue that Janus shouldn’t have to pay fair share fees because the requirement violates his right to free speech, particularly regarding the union’s political activity. However, fair share fees are categorically separated from any political expenditures by the union.

Clearly, the true objective of the plaintiff’s backers – led by the National Right to Work Foundation and the conservative Illinois Policy Institute – is to undermine public-sector unions by weakening them financially and opening the door for so-called “free riders.” Indeed, unions would still be obligated to negotiate on behalf of those workers who choose not to pay to offset the costs of their representation.

In a similar case in 1977, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court granted individual public workers the right to request a refund of the portion of their union payments used for political activities. The Court revisited the issue in 2016’s Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, but after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death left a vacancy on the court, the eight remaining jurists deadlocked 4-4 and did not modify the earlier precedent.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s 2017 appointee to the Court, may become the deciding vote in Janus vs. AFSCME. Arguments in the case are scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26.

Commentators See Fairness in PA Court’s Congressional Map

Non-partisan analysts and commentators, such as The New York Times, have recognized the new statewide Congressional map instituted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Feb. 19 as fulfilling key criteria including the relative compactness of the new districts and minimizing the division of counties and municipalities.

Commentators have also noted that the new map, if it were to withstand pending legal challenges, would likely result in more competitive elections and more partisan balance in Pennsylvania’s 18-member Congressional delegation. Republicans have held a 13-5 advantage since the Republican-controlled legislature and then-Gov. Tom Corbett enacted the gerrymandered 2012 map that the Court deemed unconstitutional in January.

"The new Pennsylvania map released Monday (Feb. 19) meets every standard non-partisan criteria,” the Times wrote. “It’s compact, minimizes county or municipal splits and preserves communities of interest.”

Supreme court Remedial Plan Congressional Map “The new map is quite fair if it’s judged on the relationship between seats won and the statewide popular vote.”

Multiple partisan legal challenges to the Supreme Court’s map have emerged from Republican leaders in the General Assembly and Pennsylvania’s Republican Congressional delegation. On Feb. 21, the challengers filed an emergency stay application with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to block application of the PA court’s map. In that filing, the state lawmakers claimed that the PA court violated the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution when it assumed the remapping function instead of leaving it to the legislature and governor. The lawmakers also claimed that the PA court did not allow them enough time to create a new map.

On Thursday, eight congressmen joined two state senators in filing suit in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. The new complaint cites similar legal grounds. The federal courts have not announced their schedule for action on either complaint.

Inquirer Editorial Backs Minimum Wage Raise

Min WageThe Philadelphia Inquirer published an editorial on Thursday, Feb. 22, endorsing an increase in Pennsylvania’s minimum wage and improved workforce development, two causes that Senator Tartaglione has supported strongly in the state Capitol.

Earlier this month, the senator introduced SB 1044 to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour (for non-tipped workers) to $12 immediately, followed by incremental increases that would raise it to $15 by 2024. Tipped workers would earn $9 an hour immediately and $12 by 2024. In future years, both minimums would be tied to annual cost of living adjustments.
In its article titled “Jobs picture looks good for many, but not everyone is invited to the party,”  the Inquirer’s editorial board cautioned readers against excessive optimism about January’s national job report, which cited a 4.1 percent unemployment rate for the fourth consecutive month as well as a 2.9 percent wage increase for January.

“But not everyone is sharing in an improving economy,” the paper wrote. “Labor-force participation was 62.7 percent for the fourth month in a row. That means over 37 percent of potential workers have given up and aren’t even counted anymore. And the number of part-time workers who can’t find full-time work has been stuck at around five million for a year.”
Further, women and minorities still earn less than white men, the paper noted, citing date supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Addressing the minimum wage issue directly, the Inquirer stated: “Workers are still not getting adequately compensated for their productivity. Starting in 1973 wages no longer tracked productivity, and the gap has continued to grow: While productivity rose 73.7 percent, hourly pay has gone up only 12.5 percent.”

The editorial further highlighted new job training proposals offered by Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, while condemning a recent move by President Trump to rescind a mandate that employers pay overtime compensation to workers who make over $23,660 a year in regular wages.

Click here for the full article.

amazonAmazon to Hire 125 in Pittsburgh, Still Looking for New HQ Site

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh continue to vie among 20 North American cities as finalists for selection as the site of Amazon’s new corporate headquarters (and for the 50,000 high-paying jobs and $5 billion investment that the facility reportedly may bring to the winning locale).

But in the meantime, Amazon is already doubling its existing tech-focused workforce in Pittsburgh. The company announced on Feb. 20 that it plans to add 125 jobs in machine translation and speech science at its Pittsburgh Tech Hub, according to the Tribune-Review.
Meanwhile, Amazon has been laying off hundreds of workers at its Seattle headquarters, the paper wrote. The company’s Pittsburgh team works on translating shopping and entertainment content into multiple languages.