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Labor Report

Right to Work Organizations Target PA Union with Another Post-Janus Lawsuit

The same anti-labor groups that brought the precedent-setting Janus case to the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court have targeted a union that represents Pennsylvania state employees.

The National Right to Work Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center have filed a new federal class action complaint in an attempt to force Local 668 of the Service Employees International Union to repay fair share fees it collected prior to last year’s Janus verdict. The partisan legal organizations have named a lone Commonwealth employee as a plaintiff, but they have requested the court to certify thousands of unnamed workers as a plaintiff class. The case was filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on August 7.

Capitolwire reported that Catherine Kioussis of York County, an income maintenance supervisor with the Department of Human Services, claims she paid $450 annually to Local 668 in fair share fees, which reimburse the union for expenses incurred while representing bargaining unit members who refuse to pay dues. Legally, workers may opt out of union membership, but continue to benefit from union-negotiated contracts.

PennLive reported that the plaintiffs seek to include an estimated 2,000 to 3,500 non-union state employees in the case. The combined damages may exceed $1 million and may date back up to two years under an applicable statute of limitations.

The case is similar to two prior post-Janus complaints filed by the same legal organizations on behalf of non-union state workers in New York and in Illinois, where the Janus case originated. The organizations have indicated they plan to pursue additional actions in other non-Right to Work states, PennLive reported.

In an emailed statement to the news organizations, SEIU Local 668 President Steve Catanese said that “millions of dollars in dark money donations from billionaires and corporations” is funding the plaintiff’s attorneys and their attacks on organized labor.

“The sole purpose of these organizations and investments in them is to file frivolous litigation against labor unions and undermine the ability of workers to have a voice at the workplace,” he said.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 majority that it’s unconstitutional for unions to collect mandatory fair share fees from public-sector workers who opt out of membership. Capitolwire noted that the majority opinion did not address the question of whether the ruling could be applied retroactively – that is, if unions could be forced to repay fees that they collected prior to the Janus decision.

Scranton Teachers Face Another Year with No Raises, Financial Uncertainty

Scranton schoolteachers are preparing to begin their third consecutive academic year without a labor contract as the district considers a financial recovery plan that has been approved by the state’s Department of Education.

The district’s approximately 700 faculty members have not received raises since their previous contract expired in 2017, according to the Times-Tribune, and would not be guaranteed raises for the next five years under the proposed recovery plan. The school board was scheduled to consider the plan during a special meeting on August 15. The board has already approved a 2020 budget with no allocation for raises.

“We’re not happy about paying for other people’s malfeasance,” President Rosemary Boland of the Scranton Federation of Teachers told the newspaper. “Every single day, I’m losing a teacher in the district. They will take jobs in another place. They’re going to get more money.”

The Department of Education placed the district on “recovery status” two years ago in the aftermath of an investigation by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that documented financial irregularities and its poor financial standing. Activity documented in that report has led to criminal prosecution of former district officials on corruption charges.

Early this month, the district announced it had reached an agreement with its superintendent to buy out her contract almost one year before it was due to expire. The district has not disclosed the buyout terms or announced a replacement chief executive.

With no raises since their last contract, some individual teachers are owed more than $40,000 in back pay based on salary steps tied to their tenure and academic credentials, the union claims.

The state-approved recovery plan proposes to raise taxes, re-bid contracts, close unspecified schools, and sell vacant properties owned by the district, which serves about 10,000 pupils in 16 schools.

Comment Period Closing on Proposed Apprenticeship Oversight Rules

The public has until Monday, August 26, to comment on the U.S. Department of Labor’s controversial rulemaking that proposes to create a new industry-led apprenticeship program that could reduce the role of building trades unions in worker training.

According to Bloomberg, the Labor Department has been at odds with the White House over the proposal, which is detailed in the Federal Register. The president wants to allow construction industry groups to participate in the new apprenticeships, but the Labor Department has “pushed to keep construction out, arguing that the industry already participates heavily in an existing Registered Apprenticeship Program,” Bloomberg reported.

The news organization further notes that it remains unclear how the administration plans to fund the program. In June, the U.S. House rejected a “spending bill amendment that would have allowed the department to use some of its job training allotment on grants for” the so-called Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program.

The administration’s effort to create a new apprenticeship program dates to June 15, 2017, when the president signed an executive order charging the secretary of labor “to consider establishing guidelines that qualified entities should or must follow to ensure that apprenticeship programs they recognize meet quality standards.” The order created the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which transmitted recommendations to the president in May 2018.

The rule would allow entities such as trade, industry, and employer groups or associations, educational institutions, state and local government agencies, non-profits, labor unions, and their partnerships to become a Standards Recognition Entity that sets training standards in relevant industries. The SREs would be certified by the Department of Labor.

U.S. Labor Department Fast-Tracking OT Rules Changes Despite Flood of Public Comments

Despite fielding more than 116,000 public comments in just five months on the White House’s proposed overtime pay rules changes, the U.S. Department of Labor is wasting little time in advancing the revisions that could exclude millions of workers from mandatory time-and-a-half wages.

Bloomberg reported on August 9 that the Labor Department had formulated a final version of the proposed rules and would soon submit them to the president for final review, despite objections from worker advocates who claim that fast-tracking the changes violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Act “requires careful consideration of all of the comments that were sent in. And there were thousands of substantive comments to consider,” Judi Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project, told the news organization. “If they’re rushing through it this quickly it’s absolutely positive that the did not perform their due diligence and we will be scrutinizing everything very carefully.”

Under current regulations, employers are generally required to pay time-and-a-half overtime wages to workers who make up to $23,660 per year in regular wages. Under the proposed rules that were first made public in March, mandatory overtime pay would apply to employees who earn up to $35,308 per year.

The new threshold would make about 1 million additional workers eligible for mandatory overtime pay. Yet, it would fall far short of the 4.2 million workers who were due to become mandatory overtime-eligible under a 2016 plan proposed by the Obama administration. A federal judge in Texas struck down the 2016 rule, which would have raised the threshold to $47,500,  just before it was to take effect. The issue is still the subject of federal litigation.

Further, the 2016 plan called for the application of automatic cost of living adjustments to the threshold, but the current rulemaking includes no COLAs. The mandatory overtime pay threshold has not been increased since 2004.

America Experiencing Worker Shortage in Trucking Industry and Other Blue-Collar Careers

The shortage of drivers in the American trucking industry stood at almost 61,000 at the end of 2018. Many Pennsylvania carriers and those around the country have been boosting their compensation packages in an effort to recruit new talent, according to a new Reading Eagle report.

The state’s largest dairy, Clover Farms, offers its drivers up to $24.72 per hour, along with monthly employee pension plan and 401(k) contributions; medical, prescription, dental, and vision coverage; life insurance; and paid vacations. Plus, drivers stay close enough to return home each night.

U.S. Express offers new drivers a $12,000 signing bonus, up to $7,000 in tuition reimbursement, 401(k) contributions, and other benefits. W.S. Thomas Transfer of West Virginia offers a $3,000 signing bonus, up to $1,300 a week in wages, and “no-touch” freight. Also, the company allows drivers to take their pets along for the ride.

Ashley Distribution Services pays up to $88,500 a year, a figure that’s the starting salary for Walmart Drivers, according to the Eagle.

Nationwide, driver wages have grown by 33 percent in the last five years. In 2017, trucks moved 10.77 billion tons of freight, accounting for about 70 percent of domestic freight tonnage. Industry experts attribute the driver shortage to a growing demand for trucking services, along with growing driver attrition due to aging. An American Trucking Associations report predicted the industry will need to hire 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade.

The trucking industry is not alone. reported that the number off open jobs in the U.S. has exceeded the number of job seekers for a record 16 consecutive months, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In June, the nation had 7.4 million open jobs, but just 6 million people who were looking for work. Prior to January 2018, job openings had never outnumbered job seekers in any monthly BLS tally.

The workforce shortage is the most pronounced in blue collar positions.

“The hardest-to-find workers are no longer computer engineers,” wrote. “They are home health care aides, restaurant workers, and hotel staff. The shift is happening because more and more Americans are going to college and taking professional jobs, while working-class baby boomers are retiring en masse.”

July 2019 PA Jobs Update

Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 3.9% in July 2019, up 0.1% from June 2019. Over the month, unemployment rolls increased by 3,152 individuals, with total unemployment rising to 249,553. State unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 249,553
  • Change Over Month –   UP   3,152
  • Change Over Year –  DOWN    20,790
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf 1st Term –   DOWN   78,565
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –  DOWN    95,311
  • Rate Change Over Month –  UP    0.1%
  • Rate Change Over Year –   DOWN   0.3%
  • Rate Change Over Gov. Wolf 1st Term –    DOWN  1.3%
  • Rate Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –   DOWN   1.5%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, increased over the 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. In July 2019, PA’s labor force rose slightly by 639 individuals, a combination of total employment* declining by 2,513 and unemployment rising by 3,152 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 67,783 (employment +163,094 - unemployment -95,311) over both terms thus far. State labor force statistics for the month are as follows: 

  • Total Labor Force – 6,469,771
  • Change Over Month –   UP    639
  • Change Over Year –   UP    51,266
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf 1st Term –   UP    58,755
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –   UP   67,783

PA non-farm* job rolls rose by 1,500 from June to July 2019, rebounding after two consecutive months of negative growth. Year-over-year (July 2018 to July 2019), a total of 30,300 new non-farm jobs have been added. Over Governor Wolf’s first term (Jan. 2015 – Jan. 2019), 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 growth, an improvement from it’s ranking of 49th in the same survey over Governor Corbett’s term. Non-farm growth has slowed in 2019 with only 800 new jobs added as of July 2019, bringing total growth over both of Governor Wolf’s terms thus far to 223,800. State non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Employment – 6,038,800
  • Change Over Month –   UP   1,500
  • Change Over Year –   UP   30,300
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf 1st Term –   UP   223,000
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf to Date –   UP    223,800

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