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Labor Report

Media Reports Give Mixed Signals on Progress of Minimum Wage Legislation

As negotiations on Pennsylvania’s 2019-2020 budget continue in Harrisburg, lawmakers have been projecting mixed signals about the status of the campaign to raise the minimum wage.

Depending on the news media or social media source, one may justifiably conclude that discussions are either progressing steadily, stuck in neutral, or non-existent.

Bills in the Senate (sponsored by Senator Tartaglione) and in the House (sponsored by Representative Patty Kim), along with Governor Wolf’s Executive Budget proposal, each call for a $12 minimum wage this year and annual increases of 50 cents until 2025, followed by annual cost of living adjustments. The current state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour matches the federal minimum wage, which has been in place since 2009.

Both bills and the governor’s office also propose to eliminate the sub-minimum wage of $2.83 an hour for tip-earning workers.

It's been 4,726 Days since the PA Legislature last Raised the Minimum WageOn June 11, the PLS Reporter Tweeted, “House Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor says a minimum wage hike is ‘not on the table’ in budget negotiations, though Gov. Tom Wolf says he remains hopeful of a deal.”

Two days later, Representative Kim Tweeted, “Budget talks for a higher minimum wage have stalled. House (Republicans) say they don’t have enough time to agree on an hourly rate.”

On June 14, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star quoted a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler stating, “minimum wage and many other policy discussions are still ongoing as part of budget discussions.”

In the same article, the news organization quoted a spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody stating, “We are very concerned” about progress on the minimum wage issue.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Jake Corman reportedly told the Capital-Star on June 13 that “a modest increase” in the minimum wage “could be something we could talk about.” Yet, nine days earlier, he reportedly told that Wolf administration officials “have not reached out to talk to me about minimum wage” and that “it’s getting late” to negotiate a minimum wage raise in time for the June 30 budget deadline.

Senator Tartaglione Deliveres Floor Remarks on Minimum Wage
Senator Tartaglione Deliveres Floor Remarks on Minimum Wage

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jay Costa reportedly told the Capital-Star that minimum wage is his “No. 1 priority” for the current budget process.
Monday, June 17, will mark 4,726 days since the Pennsylvania Legislature last raised the state’s minimum wage on July 9, 2006. In a series of speeches from the Senate floor last week, Senator Tartaglione continued to highlight the negative affects that the absence of minimum wage legislation has had on Pennsylvania workers over the last 13 years. Videos of her comments are available here, here, and here.

Despite Strong Opposition, Multi-Employer Pension Legislation Advances in U.S. House

Eleven years ago, Congress authorized $700 billion in federal spending to support distressed banks amid the subprime mortgage crisis. Yet, with many of the nation’s 1,400 multi-employer pension plans now facing insolvency, a bi-partisan federal relief plan is facing strong opposition.

House Resolution 397, also known as the Butch Lewis Act, was introduced in January and reported out of the House Ways and Means Committee on June 11 by a 26-18 vote. Advocates say the legislation would rescue many struggling multi-employer pension plans through 30-year loans that would be funded through federal bond issues. But critics have called it a labor union bailout.

Wendell Young IV of UFCW Local 1776 with
Senator Tartaglione at Frankford Transportation Center in February.

Without pension reform, labor leaders like Wendell Young IV, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, fear that millions of affected workers and retirees could lose their pensions.

“If there’s no pension reform, then more plans will end up in insolvency,” Young told the Philadelphia Inquirer recently.

The UFCW’s Tri-State Pension Fund is among the distressed plans. According to the newspaper, the plan is funded at 43 percent of its $883.7 million in obligations. It has about 10,000 active employee members who are still paying into the plan, and 23,000 retirees who are already collecting pension payments or are due to collect once they reach a minimum age.

Young told the newspaper that the plan has lost two of its three major employers over the years, with Acme markets still on board. The plan lost much of its assets in the 2008 stock market crash and has been unable to recover. Meanwhile, it has become nearly impossible to bring new employers on board because companies don’t want to take on the liability, Young said.

AT&T Continues Job Cuts, Despite 2017 Tax Cut Windfall

Eighteen months after the Tax Cut and Jobs Act was enacted, AT&T has reduced its workforce by 24,000 jobs, despite assurances by CEO Randall Stephenson in 2017 that the company would add 7,000 jobs and pay better wages were the so-called “Trump tax cuts” to become law, according to

AT&T The Communications Workers of America released an analysis of the employment situation at AT&T last month, not long before the company notified the union of 880 new job cuts in the Midwest and Southwest. In the report, the CWA stated, “AT&T received an unprecedented windfall from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Trump signed into law in December 2017. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson went on the record with promises to create thousands of jobs should the bill pass, yet in 2018 the company instead eliminated jobs and closed U.S. call centers.”

Since January, AT&T has closed four more call centers in upstate New York and Connecticut, the union stated.

The report noted that contracts for CWA members based in the Midwest and the company’s national Legacy T union expired more than a year ago, and that another CWA contract for AT&T employees in the Southeast is due to expire in August.

Federal Agencies Reject Ridershare Driver Employee Status

The U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board have each informed Bloomberg Law that they view Uber drivers and other gig economy workers as independent contractors, rather than employees.

Ride ShareSenior attorneys for both agencies spoke to Bloomberg on June 13 on the heels of two recent memos that “sketch out the administration’s approach to the hotly contested question” of employee status, the news organization reported.

“Contractors are treated largely like entrepreneurs under federal labor and employment laws. That means they don’t have the right to minimum wages and overtime pay, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance benefits. They also don’t have the right to unionize,” the article stated.

“The moves mark a shift from the Obama administration’s view that the overwhelming share of workers should be considered employees. Together, they indicate the agencies aren’t likely to take up cases from gig workers alleging labor and employment violations on the job.”

They may not be recognized by the federal government, but rideshare drivers have organized themselves in the Independent Drivers Guild and Drivers United to fight for better pay and working conditions. Last month, thousands of drivers reportedly took part in a one-day strike of rideshare companies in cities across the nation.

National Job Growth Underperforms Expectations in May, Wage Growth Remains Slow

Analysts are interpreting a weaker than expected national jobs report for May as a sign of a slowing economy. Employers added 75,000 non-farm jobs, far below last year’s monthly average of 223,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate remained at 3.6% nationally, the lowest rate recorded since December 1969.

“The increase was a far cry from what economists had expected and a fraction of the number of jobs created in April. The weakness was most evident in sectors that depend on exports, and analysts were quick to blame Mr. Trump’s tariffs on China and other countries,” the New York Times reported.

Average hourly earnings increased by 0.2%, also less than expected. “The small pool of available workers still hasn’t translated to much higher pay: Workers only got an average hourly pay raise of 6 cents in May, the same increase they got a month earlier. … With such a tight labor market and rising productivity, workers should expect much bigger pay raises than they’re getting,” reported.