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Labor Report

Philly Refinery Operator Files for Bankruptcy, Says it Wants to Restart Facility Eventually

For the second time in two years, the company that owns and operates the idled 335,000-barrel-a-day Philadelphia oil refinery complex has filed for bankruptcy. The company’s stated objective is to rebuild the facility and restart its refining operations.

In a July 21 press release, Philadelphia Energy Solutions did not disclose how long the “wind down” of its current operations, a reorganization of the company, and the “rebuilding of the South Philly facility might take. The company said it filed for Chapter 11 reorganization and entered into “a proposed debtor-in-possession financing agreement” with creditors that would provide up to $100 million in new funding to the company.

WHYY reported that PES expected to stop processing crude oil earlier this week. The company announced its plans to shutter the refinery complex soon after a June 21 fire and series of explosions damaged a portion of the facility.

Initially, PES informed about 1,000 employees that they would be laid off on July 1, allegedly in violation of Pennsylvania’s WARN Act that requires at least 60 days’ notice. The company did not offer those workers severance pay. PES later postponed the layoff date to August 25, which coincides with the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement affecting hundreds of the workers. In a letter notifying workers of the delayed layoff date, PES Senior VP William A. Goodhart wrote that the layoffs are expected to be permanent, according to the Daily Times.

In a bankruptcy court filing, the company claimed “a significant portion of the Girard Point facility, which represented 57 percent of the (company’s) refining and distillation capacity, is now in ashes.” PES also owns an adjoining refinery, Point Breeze, that is included in the shutdown and bankruptcy proceedings. Leaders of the United Steelworkers Local 10-1, which represents refinery workers, have said that 30 of the 31 units within the refinery complex are operable and could restart immediately.

New State Audit Identifies Worker Shortage, Growing Demand for Long-term Care

Adequate staffing to care for Pennsylvania’s rapidly growing population of older adults is one of the major issues confronting state-supported nursing care, according to a new report issued by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

The new assessment follows up on the AG’s 2016 audit of oversight of nursing homes by the Department of Health. It reviews the department’s progress on implementing 23 recommendations made by the auditor in 2016. The new report contains nine observations and 30 additional recommendations regarding nursing home oversight and strategies to grow the healthcare workforce.

“Not only can Pennsylvania do a better job in ensuring the safety of today’s older adults, but we must also get ready for the huge numbers of people who will need care in the not-so-distant future,” DePasquale said in a news release.

During a Harrisburg news conference, state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said that the Wolf administration is preparing a broad update of nursing home regulations that will address minimum staffing levels. The Post-Gazette reported that Levine “largely agreed with the report’s suggestions.”

“Mr. DePasquale called on state agencies to collaborate with one another and work with the long-term care field and educational institutions to try to address the broad workforce issues, which ultimately may overshadow any problem pertaining to regulations or inspections,” the newspaper wrote.

Philly Locals Ink 10-Year Pact with PA Convention Center

Four Philadelphia-based trade unions have signed onto a new 10-year labor agreement at the Pennsylvania Convention Center that advocates say will reduce restrictions on exhibitors and lead to more work for union members.

The PCC announced the agreement with Laborers’ Local 332, IATSE Stagehands Local 8, IBEW Local 98, and Iron Workers Local 405 on July 25.

“Building on a shared commitment to the success of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, facility leaders and their show floor trade partners announced today the signing of a labor agreement extension that builds on the competitive work rules and expanded exhibitor rights that were first put in place in a groundbreaking agreement that was approved in May 2014,” PCC stated in a news release.

The agreement allows exhibitors more freedom to set up and take down their own booths and continues the venue’s policy of charging exhibitors overtime rates for trade labor only after eight hours of work on weekdays, regardless of the time of day.

“This is a major differentiator from other large convention centers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast which assess overtime charges or variable labor rates for work performed outside the 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. window on weekdays,” the PCC stated.

In the four years since relaxed labor rules were first implemented at the center, labor hours have increased every year, from 100 workers per eight-hour day in 2014 to 130 workers this year on average, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, citing data provided by Local 8 Business Manager Mike Barnes.

Harley’s York Plant Completes Expansion Amid Poor Sales Domestically and Worldwide

Harley-Davidson executives said in a conference call with financial analysts that the motorcycle manufacturer completed the hiring of 400 new workers and the addition of two new production lines to its York County plant last month, even as sales continue to plummet domestically and worldwide, according to Bloomberg.

In addition, the executives said, the European Union has given the company approval to import cycles manufactured in Thailand and has agreed to relieve import tariffs charged to the company.

The latest news follows a tumultuous period for H-D when U.S. sales plummeted by 8% for the recently concluded quarter (marking the 10th consecutive quarter of declining domestic sales), and worldwide sales declined 8.4%. Early in 2018, H-D announced it would close its manufacturing facility in Kansas City, leaving 800 workers there unemployed, while moving many of those jobs to York and to the newly constructed Thailand plant.

Kansas City workers were incredulous toward the realignment plan, noting that the employer stood to save millions of dollars under the 2017 federal tax law that slashed corporate taxes from 35% to 21%.

Analysts attribute the company’s declining domestic sales largely to demographics – particularly the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. However, the escalating global trade war triggered by the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum has also hurt the company’s bottom line, Bloomberg reported.

Hundreds of Philly Workers Still Waiting for Raises Three Years After City Adopted Prevailing Wage Law

Almost three years after Philadelphia enacted an ordinance granting prevailing wage rights to security guards, janitors, and other service workers at the city’s educational and medical institutions, hundreds are still awaiting raises, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

On July 22, Service Employees International Union 32BJ filed a complaint with the city claiming that 1,400 of its members are still making less than the $15 per hour that the union says should be their wage floor.

Under the law, universities, hospitals, and other nonprofit institutions that benefit from discounts on their city water bills must comply with the prevailing wage requirement.

According to the newspaper, the city did not notify the affected institutions of the requirement until February 2019. Some institutions told the newspaper that they planned to discontinue the water discount rather than pay prevailing wage. Others said that they planned to comply once current collective bargaining agreements expire. Others said the affected workers are contract workers, so their contractor employers are responsible for compliance.

Coal Miners, Casey Continue Capitol Hill Push for Black Lung Benefits

Dozens of coal miners and their advocates gathered in Washington, D.C., on July 23 as U.S. Senator Bob Casey led a roundtable discussion on extending the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, a session that coincided with Casey’s introduction of the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act.

Incidences of the disease are increasing rapidly in Appalachian coal mining states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia. Last year, in a series of investigative articles focusing on the disease, NPR reported that a federal monitoring program documented just 99 cases of advanced black lung disease nationwide from 2011-2016, yet the news organization identified more than 2,000 coal miners suffering from the disease in the same timeframe in just five Appalachian states.

Casey’s new legislation – S.2205 – proposes to improve miners’ access to medical evidence for their black lung claims and to reduce the time it takes for claims to be processed.

“Miners helped build this nation, powered our factories and homes and fueled decades of prosperity by doing some of the most difficult work there is,” Senator Casey said. “Our Nation promised to keep them safe at work and support them if their decades of work took a toll on their health. The promises made to coal miners have been broken when politicians in Washington, D.C. listened to powerful special interests over the needs of miners and their families. I am proud to say that I have stood with miners over the years and will continue to support them in the face of this terrible disease.”

The July 23 discussion “featured emotional testimony from sickened miners, a wife of a deceased miner, and an occupational lung expert,” the Post-Gazette reported.

Erie News Now reported that the Trust Fund is $4 billion in debt. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 10 coal miners have been diagnosed with black lung, including nearly 1 in 5 in Central Appalachia.

Senate Democrats Focus on Vets Services at Policy Committee Hearing

At the request of Senator Pam Iovino, the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing on July 23 on the coordination and delivery of veterans’ services in Pennsylvania.

“Those of us serving in the Senate – public servants ourselves – have an obligation to apply our service toward those who once served us,” Senator Iovino said. “Our veterans deserve the very best support, and this hearing helped us understand how the Commonwealth can provide first-class service to the men and women who put on the uniform.” 

A 23-year U.S. Navy veteran, Senator Iovino has introduced Senate Resolution 170 that would establish a 21-member statewide task force to study the coordination and delivery of services for veterans and their families. That proposal has bipartisan support, with 16 Democratic and 10 Republican co-sponsors. The resolution was voted unanimously out of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, which Iovino co-chairs, and is now being considered by the full Senate.  

Under the Iovino resolution, the task force would examine:  

  • Veterans’ service networks and collaborative organizations in Pennsylvania,
  • Current models for interorganizational communication within the veterans’ service community in Pennsylvania and other states;
  • Technology being used to collect, store and exchange data among the veterans’ service community in Pennsylvania and other states;
  • National, state and local models that focus on comprehensive access, navigation and utilization of veterans’ services; and 
  • Task force recommendations to better coordinate services among veterans’ service organizations. 

Pennsylvania has approximately 819,000 veterans, which is the fourth largest veteran population in the United States. 

Discussing the state Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs new regional outreach effort, Maj. Gen. Eric Weller, who serves as deputy adjutant general, said, “This new regional outreach initiative will allow us to remove barriers for veterans, connect them to the services they need and have earned and minimize costs by better utilizing existing services.” 

Julie Hera DeStefano, director of the “Journey to Normal,” said her western Pennsylvania-based organization “has learned that the complexities of deployment and reintegration are profound and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for addressing them. If left unresolved, the grief can lead to risky behaviors, strained and broken relationships, depression, physical illness – all of which keep the veteran – and our perception of them – in a cycle of sickness.” 

Dr. Ben Stahl, who serves as executive director of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, said nearly 60 percent of veterans in a recent survey said access to care and navigating available services and resources are their top challenges. 

Col. Tom Stokes, who is retired from the U.S. Army, said, “We have 45,000 nonprofits across the country that serve veterans, hundreds of thousands of VA employees, and veterans’ service organizations, but we continue to have high veteran suicide rates. We need to go beyond thank you for your service and symbolic gestures. We all like care packages but what we really need is meaningful, sustained interpersonal connection, and a true understanding of our military culture.”