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Labor Report

With Future of Philly Hospital in Jeopardy, Thousands Face Daunting Job Search

If the operators of Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia are able to follow through on their planned closing of the facility, despite efforts by city and state leaders to forestall the shutdown, many of the 2,500 workers who would be displaced may have trouble finding new employment in hospital settings.

Despite the growing demand for health care workers, hospital jobs are becoming scarcer while home-based jobs, which are often lower paying, have been trending higher, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Hospital jobs make up about one-third of all health care jobs in the Philadelphia region, but have experienced less than 1% annual growth over the last decade.

“That’s due in part to the fact that hospitals around Philly and across the country have been merging. The health-care industry is trying to shift care out of hospitals because it’s more expensive to deliver care that way,” the newspaper reported.

Home health care jobs and urgent care jobs “pay much less” and are “generally not unionized,” and “they can also be dead-end jobs because these facilities tend to be flatter, without much opportunity to advance.”

Service workers, such as nursing assistants, housekeepers, and food service workers, may have the most daunting re-employment prospects. There are about 700 such employees among the 2,500 workers at Hahnemann. While those types of health care jobs have seen a relatively high rate growth in the region, “service workers without credentials – a bachelor’s degree or a nursing assistant certification – will have the hardest time finding a comparable job,” the newspaper reported.

Both Governor Tom Wolf and Mayor James Kenney maintain hope of saving the hospital from closing. In a joint statement on July 11, the leaders acknowledged that “a short-term solution is simply not viable” due to the mounting debt of the current business model imposed by “CEO Joel Freedman and his team of venture capitalists.”

“We are both committed to working with potential investors to find support for the restructuring of Hahnemann and for protecting St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children,” Wolf and Kenney wrote. “Maintaining a level of medical services at Hahnemann and ensuring St. Christopher’s never faces a similar fate is critically important to saving jobs and lives, as well as meeting the needs of Philadelphians.”

Soon after the hospital’s announced closing, Wolf’s administration issued a cease and desist order requiring that the hospital maintain its services until the Department of Health can review and approve a closure plan. Later, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge enjoined the hospital from reducing or disrupting services until the city’s health commissioner approves a closure plan.

Yet, the hospital has reportedly been diverting trauma patients to other area emergency rooms. On July 10, about 800 maternity patients were notified by letter that they would have to arrange their child births elsewhere because Hahnemann will no longer facilitate deliveries.

Steelworkers Say Threatened Refinery Could Be Productive, Profitable with Right Ownership

Leaders of the United Steelworkers Local 10-1 are hoping that federal, state, and local officials will help them find a new owner for the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery that has been idle since a June 21 fire and explosion at the 1,400-acre South Philly site.

USW represents about 700 of the facility’s 1,200 employees, while another 800 contractors also rely directly on the refinery for work, according to Local 10-1 President Ryan O’Callaghan, who addressed dozens of elected officials and union members at a July 2 meeting at the local’s Norwood, Delaware County, headquarters.

PES announced plans to shutter the refinery on June 26. Initially, company officials said it would lay off 950 workers on July 12. After meeting with union leaders and elected officials, PES agreed to keep paying those workers through August 25.

O’Callaghan said that the refinery closure would have a broad ripple effect on the Philadelphia area economy, as well as that of the entire Mid-Atlantic region. PES is the largest refinery on the East Coast and was producing 335,000 barrels a day in automotive gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel fuel, home heating fuel, and industrial-grade products used by secondary markets. The site has hosted refining operations for the last 150 years.

And the closure is not necessary from an operational standpoint because the refinery is still capable of operating at 85% capacity, he said.

“Thirty of thirty-one units could be turned on today,” O’Callaghan said.

Likewise, he claimed, the refinery is efficient with “the lowest cost per barrel in the industry.”

Without the refinery, the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. will suffer economically, the union leader predicted. The region would rely for its supply of fuel on a sole pipeline connected to other refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. Prices would be more susceptible to drastic spikes, particularly when Gulf storms interrupt operations there.

Further, that pipeline already operates at maximum capacity, so it’s not possible to ship more fuel to the East Coast to compensate for the reduced local production.

Alternately, the U.S. could turn to Europe to make up for its lost production but increasing the nation’s reliance on foreign oil raises national security and economic issues.

Some critics of the fossil fuel industry have proposed converting the vast refinery acreage for producing alternative fuels, such as solar energy. O’Callaghan said that it would take at least 20 years to remediate environmental issues and restore the site back to its mid-19th century condition.

The union leader said the challenge now is to demonstrate to potential investors that there is an opportunity for profitability with an experienced and high-performing workforce.

MontCo Struggling to Meet Growing Demand for Health Care Workers

A new report by Montgomery County Commerce Director David Zellers, as cited by the Philadelphia Inquirer, found that the county has more than 600 open health care-related jobs posted online, accounting for nearly one out of every four online job postings in the county.

The county’s total labor force has grown by 12,900 workers in the last year, yet there were 2,747 open jobs posted online, according to the report. Of those, 660 were in the health care and social assistance sector, a field that includes nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and paramedics. Those figures are constantly subject to change as old postings expire and other positions become available.

“Health-care companies, such as hospitals and pharmaceuticals, are trying to keep up with the industry’s demand, but it’s not easy to fill that many jobs when the county’s unemployment rate is at 3.1 percent,” the newspaper reported. “Overall, the county sees 340 annual openings for registered nurses, a position that makes an average of $73,160 a year and requires a Bachelor of Science in nursing, according to the county’s high priority occupation data. Certified nursing aides, who typically care for elderly or people with disabilities, are also in demand. They do not require a college degree and make about $27,520 a year, on average.”

Holy Redeemer Health System seeks to fill about 200 positions, while Einstein Healthcare Network has about 75 openings in the county. Einstein has begun to recruit from among the more than 500 employees who are being impacted by the recent bankruptcy filing by the operators of Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.

In Montgomery County, an aging workforce and population growth have contributed to the growing demand for health care professionals. Meanwhile, educational facilities have struggled to meet the demand due in part to their difficulty in staffing their teaching faculties.

“Schools every year are turning away highly qualified candidates because there are not enough faculty to educate them to be nurses,” Donna S. Havens, dean of Villanova University’s College of Nursing in neighboring Delaware County, told the Inquirer.

Villanova’s nursing program received 1,600 applications for 95 undergraduate seats in 2018, Havens said. Graduates from the program that year had a 97.4% job placement rate within six months at an average starting salary of $64,588.

Federal Minimum Wage Bill Would Grant Raises to 17 Million Workers

A U.S. House proposal to increase the federal minimum wage would result in raises for at least 17 million workers and could lead to pay hikes for 10 million more while lifting 1.3 million families out of poverty, according to a new Congressional Budget Office study. The same CBO report warned that the pending legislation could cause reduced hours for or the elimination of 1.3 million jobs nationwide.

Similar to Senator Tartaglione’s SB 12, which is pending in the Pennsylvania Senate, the federal plan – known as the Raise the Wage Act (HR 582) – proposes to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 through incremental annual raises. Pennsylvania’s minimum wage and the federal minimum are both $7.25 per hour.

The U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor reported HR 582 to the full House in March by a 28-20 vote. The Democrat-led chamber could vote on the bill as soon as next week, but the measure is likely to face strong opposition in the Republican-led U.S. Senate and from the White House.

One House Republican leader responded to the CBO report by alleging that the proposed legislation would “hurt millions of families,” according to Politico. Another called the proposal “blatantly socialist,” NPR reported.

But analyst Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute noted that more than 20 percent of the lowest-wage workers change employment every economic quarter, so even job reductions wouldn’t necessarily result in forced layoffs, Politico reported.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted that studies of prior minimum wage increases have shown little to no real impact on employment opportunity: “Every time momentum builds for lifting wages, conservative ideologues say it will cost jobs. Every time they’ve been dead wrong.”

U.S. Employers add 224,000 Jobs in June; Unemployment Rises

The nation’s total nonfarm payroll employment increased by an estimated 224,000 jobs in June, while the unemployment rate increased slightly to 3.7%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on July 5. Notable job gains occurred in professional and business services, health care, and transportation and warehousing, the federal agency reported.

The labor force participation rate (including those who are employed and those who are unemployed but actively looking for work) was little changed over the previous month and the previous year at 62.9%. That is near the lowest labor force participation rate since 1977, according to the New York Times.

“Most accounts of the June job numbers didn’t use that double-barreled, and sobering, approach to reporting the figures. Yet a falling participation rate suggests a growing accumulation of men and women who are neither working nor unemployed, but rather disengaged,” the Times wrote.

In June, the employment-population ratio was 60.6% for the fourth month in a row. There were 4.3 million part-time workers who desired full-time work, as well as 1.6 million who wanted work, but were not counted as unemployed because they hadn’t actively searched for work in the preceding four weeks.

NPR reported that the June job growth exceeded the pace that many forecasters were expecting and represented a sharp improvement over a disappointing May figure. The news agency cited the manufacturing sector with 17,000 additional jobs, along with transportation and warehousing with 24,000 additional jobs, and the government sector with 33,000 additional jobs, some of which may be tied to the 2020 census. Conversely, retailers and auto makers reduced their job numbers.

(Source: BLS