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Labor Report

States Nationwide Continue to Raise their Minimum Wages

As the volume of dialogue about new minimum wage legislation continues to grow in Pennsylvania, lawmakers from Florida to Washington State, Maryland to New Mexico, have acted this month on proposals to raise the minimum wages in their states.

Raise the WageOn March 14, Maryland’s Senate adopted a bill that will gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 1, 2025. Members of the state’s House of Delegates previously approved a similar version of the bill. Although Governor Larry Hogan has criticized the legislation and is unlikely to sign it into law, the Senate passed the measure by a veto-proof supermajority, 32-15.

Maryland is already among the six states bordering Pennsylvania that have enacted minimum wage laws exceeding the $7.25 rate effective in the Commonwealth. New York, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, and Ohio also have enacted higher minimum wages than Pennsylvania’s, which has stagnated at the federal minimum for more than a decade.

Maryland’s minimum wage is $10.10 per hour. WAMU-FM reported that the “living-wage calculator” offered online by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that single, childless adults must earn at least $15.08 per hour in Maryland to meet their basic needs.

In Florida, minimum wage advocates are pursuing a different route. They are trying to achieve $15 per hour through a constitutional amendment. On March 8, the Florida for a Fair Wage political committee met a petition filing deadline that will make their proposed amendment eligible for review by the Florida Supreme Court. The wording must be approved by the court for it to be added to the November 2020 ballot in the form of a referendum.

Florida for a Fair Wage submitted more than 87,000 signatures in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 by September 30, 2026. If the court approves the language, the advocates would have to submit at least 766,200 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot.

Florida’s minimum wage is $8.46 per hour.

Minimum wage workers in New Mexico appear on track to achieve $9 per hour next January 1, and $12 by 2023, under an agreement reached last week among leading state Senate and House members. The measure is expected to receive the support of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who advocated for a $12 minimum wage by 2021 during her 2018 campaign. The state’s minimum wage workers now earn $7.50 per hour.

In Washington State, the sub-minimum wage for workers with disabilities may soon be repealed. The state House recently voted 81-17 to eliminate a process by which employers can apply for certification to pay workers with disabilities 25 percent or more below the standard minimum wage, which stands at $12 per hour and will rise to $13.50 next year per the requirements of legislation enacted in 2016.

Lawmakers Launch New Effort to Enact Statewide Paid Sick Leave

Paid Family LeavePennsylvania Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would require employers statewide to provide paid sick leave to all workers.

Senate Bill 13 was introduced on March 19 and referred to the Labor & Industry Committee. Known as the Healthy Employee/Healthy Workplace Act, the measure would benefit at least 400,000 Pennsylvania workers, particularly minimum wage and low-income workers in retail, hospitality, and other service sectors. The proposal mandates that employees would accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, except those who are exempt from the overtime requirements of the state’s Minimum Wage Act and would accrue paid sick leave based upon their normal workweek.

Efforts to enact paid sick leave in Pennsylvania’s largest cities in recent years have produced mixed results. Philadelphia’s ordinance took effect in 2015 and prompted Pennsylvania Senate Republicans to introduce and pass legislation that would have preempted the local ordinance. Governor Wolf vowed to veto the measure would it reach his desk. The bill was never brought to a vote in the House. In 2017, House Republicans advanced a similar preemptive bill, but that legislation failed to reach a vote of the full House.

Pittsburgh lawmakers also adopted paid sick leave in 2015, but the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association and individual businesses soon filed suit to block the ordinance. City attorneys and the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ lost rulings at the Common Pleas and Commonwealth court levels. Their appeal is pending before the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, the ordinance is on hold.

Philly Lagging in Worker Protection Enforcement, But Aims to Improve

Enforcement of recently enacted wage-theft and paid sick leave ordinances has lagged in Philadelphia compared to other parts of the country, but the number of cases handled by the Mayor’s Office of Labor is growing as advocates push for more awareness of the worker protections. reported that the office received 67 complaints of alleged wage theft and paid sick leave violations from 2016 to 2018. The city enacted mandatory paid sick leave in 2015 and wage-theft protection in 2016. Out of 24 wage theft complaints, three were resolved. Of 43 paid sick leave complaints, nine were resolved.

Unfair Labor Practice StrikeThose figures pale in comparison to Seattle, a city considered “the gold standard in the country when it comes to enforcing worker-protection laws,” the news agency reported. Although Seattle has just under half of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million population, the West Coast city outperforms Philadelphia in all worker protection categories. It’s equivalent of the Office of Labor has a budget of $6.6 million and 23 employees compared to Philly’s $740,000 and three employees. Seattle responded to 2,000 worker-protection inquiries last year, compared to 200 for Philadelphia. Also last year, Seattle resolved 76 paid sick leave investigations and 62 wage-theft investigations. Seattle’s office enforces six different worker protections, compared to Philadelphia’s two.

“The minimal enforcement of the wage theft and paid sick leave laws to date is due not to a lack of commitment by this administration, but a lack of resources,” Philly’s Deputy Mayor for Labor Rich Lazer told

The mayor recently appointed a new director of the Office of Labor, Amanda Shimko, a former counsel to the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

New Jersey Becomes Second State to Ban Cashless Businesses

New Jersey have become the second U.S. state to ban cashless businesses, following the lead of Massachusetts, as well as Philadelphia, which last month became the nation’s first major city to institute a similar ban.

“Proponents characterize it as an attempt to ensure that consumers without credit cards can participate in the economy,” the Philadelphia Tribune reported. “It comes at a time when retailers such as Amazon are rolling out cashless stores that only accept credit cards in the name of efficiency.”

Governor Phil Murphy signed the measure into law on March 19. It took effect immediately. Business leaders such as the New Jersey Business and Industry Association opposed the law, claiming that consumers without credit cards could patronize cashless stores by purchasing prepaid debit cards or gift certificates.

The notion of cashless stores is also a controversial labor issue because of its connection to the potential proliferation of cashier-less stores and its implications for the retail job market. Philadelphia City Council voted overwhelmingly to ban cashless stores despite Amazon’s reported efforts to lobby the administration against the bill.

February 2019 PA Jobs Update

GrowthPennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.0% in February 2019, down 0.1% from January 2019, marking its lowest point since May 2000. Over the month, unemployment rolls decreased by 5,744 individuals, with total unemployment falling to 260,555. Over Governor Wolf’s first term (Jan. 2015 – Jan. 2019), the state’s unemployment rate fell by 1.3% and is down 1.4% over both terms thus far. State unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 260,555
  • Change Over Month –  DOWN    5,744
  • Change Over Year –  DOWN    28,342
  • Rate Change Over Month –  DOWN    0.1%
  • Rate Change Over Year –   DOWN    0.5%
  • Rate Change Over Gov. Wolf 1st Term – DOWN    1.3%
  • Rate Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date – DOWN    1.4%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, fell over the prior month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the number of employed individuals combined with the number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Labor force growth can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. Marking a second consecutive monthly increase, PA’s labor force grew by 8,452 individuals in February 2019, a combination of total employment* rising by 14,196 and unemployment down by 5,744 as noted above. Over Governor Wolf’s first term, the state’s labor force grew by 58,755 (employment +137,320/ unemployment -78,565) and is up by 67,207 (employment +151,516/ unemployment -84,309) over both terms thus far. State labor force statistics for the month are as follows: 

  • Total Labor Force – 6,469,195
  • Change Over Month – UP    8,452
  • Change Over Year – UP    67,962
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf 1st Term –  UP    58,755
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –  UP    67,207

PA non-farm* job rolls saw little change in February 2019, falling by only 200 over the prior month with total employment standing at 6,037,800. Year-over-year, a total of 43,300 new non-farm jobs were added from February 2018 to February 2019. Over Governor Wolf’s first term, a total of 223,000 new non-farm jobs were added, roughly 71,000 more than were added over the four-year term of the prior Corbett Administration. The addition of 223,000 non-farm jobs over Governor Wolf’s first term ranked the commonwealth 35th out of 50 states for new percentage job growth, an improvement from it’s ranking of 49th in the same survey over Governor Corbett’s term. Over both of Governor Wolf’s terms, the commonwealth has added 222,800 non-farm jobs thus far. State non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Employment – 6,037,800
  • Change Over Month –  DOWN    200
  • Change Over Year –   UP    43,300
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf 1st Term – UP    223,000
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –  UP    222,800

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

2019 PA vs National Unemployment