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Labor Report

If Current Election Outcomes Hold, Organized Labor Expects Big Things from Next President

Organized labor has played a major role in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. With the preferred labor candidate appearing to be on the verge of victory as ballot counting continued November 6th in key states including Pennsylvania, labor advocates have begun to ponder what policy decisions might be forthcoming in a Biden administration.

The website reported, “Biden courted union support and pledged to support sweeping legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize. But that agenda may have to wait at least two years. If the U.S. Senate remains in Republican control, as appears likely, Biden would be the first president in 30 years to enter the White House without his party in power in the (U.S.) House and (U.S.) Senate.”

Yet, even without Congressional consensus, a new administration would be in position to reverse “Trump executive orders that stripped federal workers of union rights,” and put “pro-worker appointees in charge of the Labor Department, OSHA, and the National Labor Relations Board.”

IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson and United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero are on the Biden transition team’s 15-member advisory board. Biden’s longtime Senate Chief of Staff Ted Kaufman heads the transition team.

The current U.S. Labor Department secretary is Eugene Scalia, a longtime management-side labor attorney and former Labor Department solicitor under President George W. Bush, and whose late father was staunch conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The five-seat National Labor Relations Board currently has a Republican majority with three Republicans, one Democrat, and one vacant seat that would traditionally be occupied by a second Democrat during a Republican presidential administration. The five-year term of one Republican member will expire in August 2021, and the term of another Republican member will expire in December 2022. The next U.S. president will be able to nominate individuals to fill the current vacancy and the next two vacancies, but those nominations would be subject to Senate confirmation.

The current OSHA leadership has been harshly criticized for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly regarding workplace safety rules. On October 29th, a coalition of labor unions petitioned the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco to order OSHA to enact a rule protecting workers from airborne diseases. The unions include the American Federation of Teachers and AFSCME. They have asked the court to order OSHA to accelerate an infectious disease standard that it has been purportedly developing since 2010.

Last month, union leaders described a Biden victory as a historic win for organized labor.

“It’s clear to me it’s going to be the most significant pro-labor, pro-worker administration in a long, long time,” International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger said, according to Politico.

There is a lot of lost ground to make up in terms of union membership. Just over 10% of American workers were unionized last year. That’s about half the rate it was in 1983, Politico reported.

Labor Secretary Warns of Scam Phone Calls and Communications Targeting Pennsylvania Residents

Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jerry Oleksiak has reminded residents to remain vigilant against scams as new reports emerge of fraudsters posing as L&I employees on phone calls to Pennsylvanians.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry will never contact you and ask for your personal, private information,” Secretary Oleksiak said. “If you receive a call, email, text, social media message, or other communication seeking information such as your username, password, or full Social Security number, do not provide it. We will never ask you for this information.”

A very small number of Pennsylvanians reported receiving phone calls and other communication recently seeking their personal information, including their Social Security numbers, from individuals posing as L&I employees. These scammers may be telling potential victims they require this personal information to correct an unemployment compensation (UC) account issue. Some of the victims of this scam have previously received unemployment benefits for which they did not apply. L&I employees do not call, text, or email individuals and say they are investigating fraud. L&I employees will never contact individuals and ask for their full Social Security numbers.

Multiple states, including Pennsylvania, have been inundated with fraudulent unemployment claims, primarily through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which assists out-of-work individuals who are typically ineligible for traditional UC. These fraudsters file claims using personal information stolen through data breaches that occurred outside of state government.

Other states have also seen instances of scammers redirecting legitimate claim payouts by obtaining claimants' usernames and passwords, logging on, and changing the claimants' banking information. It's possible that scammers could be trying to obtain this account information in Pennsylvania by posing as L&I employees and asking for it under the guise of fixing an issue. Claimants are urged to never provide their username and password to anyone, especially over social media. L&I employees will never ask for a claimant's username or password.

L&I does not currently offer assistance to claimants over social media messaging due to the inability to guarantee security and confidentiality, and messages received from "L&I" over social media are most likely fraudulent and should be ignored.

For more information on identifying fraud, what to do if you believe you have been a victim of fraud, or how to report fraud, visit L&I's website.

Ignoring the Policy of Their Presidential Pick, Floridians Overwhelmingly Approve $15 Minimum Wage

With 99% of Florida voting precincts counted, Donald Trump was leading Joe Biden by almost 600,000 votes. Trump opposes a $15 minimum wage, while Biden supports it. Yet, Floridians also voted in support of a $15 minimum wage on Tuesday’s General Election ballot, and it wasn’t even close: 60% to 40% “yes.”

That apparent contradiction left many election watchers wondering how it happened.

“Beyond signaling that people just aren’t ideologically consistent, there is another – and perhaps more important – read into Florida’s results: Increasing wages is an attractive proposition to a lot of people, and it’s a position Democrats should embrace and highlight more,” reported.

A national organizer for the Fight for $15 organization framed the issue another way: “Across the board, it is not necessarily a left or right issue. Voters across the aisle actually know that it is impossible in Florida and around the country [to] actually survive on $8.56 and what the current minimum wage is.”

Florida’s current minimum wage is $8.56 an hour and is adjusted annually based on inflation. That is slightly higher than the federal rate of $7.25, which remains in effect in Pennsylvania. There is no federal provision for inflation adjustments.

Under the plan approved by Florida voters, the state’s minimum wage will move to $10 next September and increase incrementally to reach $15 an hour in September 2026. Beyond that, it will be adjusted annually for inflation. In winning the Florida presidential election, Trump secured just over 5.6 million votes. The minimum wage proposal secured almost 6.4 million votes on the same ballot.

In Pennsylvania, the General Assembly hasn’t approved a minimum wage increase since 2006. Polls have shown that 7 in 10 Pennsylvanians favor raising the minimum wage. Senator Tartaglione has introduced legislation, known as S.B. 12, to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 in the first year and $15 by 2025. Governor Wolf is also a proponent of the $12/$15 plan.

In 2019, the state Senate adopted a separate measure introduced by Senator Tartaglione to raise the minimum wage to a lesser amount. The legislation received bipartisan support in the Senate, but the state House declined to consider the bill, which is expected to expire in committee at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 legislative session.

October 2020 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate fell for a sixth consecutive month in October 2020, dropping to 6.9%, down 1.0% over the month. The rate in October was down 7.8% from 14.7% in April, its highest level in the history of the seasonally adjusted series (dating back to 1948 - prior to this time, unemployment was estimated to have hit roughly 25% during the Great Depression of the 1930s). As a result, the national unemployment rate as of October had recovered roughly 70% of the increase seen between February and April (11.2% - from 3.5% to 14.7%).

This and the other changes to data noted in this update reflect the evolution of the national employment situation through the coronavirus pandemic (please see the **footnote below). Over the month, unemployment rolls fell by 1.519 million individuals, lowering total unemployment to 11.061 million. Since hitting a series record high of 23.078 million in April (with growth of 17.291 million between Feb. and April), total unemployment has declined by 12.017 million. However, as has been the case during the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that unemployment figures would have been higher for the month if survey respondents had been properly classified as unemployed on temporary layoff.

As of October 2020, the national unemployment rate stood 3.4% higher than its level of 3.5% in February 2020 (which matched the 50 year low seen in 2019) with total unemployment standing 5.274 million higher than the February 2020 level of 5.787 million individuals. For context, the unemployment rate had declined 1.2% with total unemployment down by 1.731 million individuals over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 11,061,000
  • Change Over Month –    DOWN   1,519,000
  • Change Over 8 Months –    UP    5,274,000
  • Change Over Year –    UP   5,204,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –     UP   3,543,000
  • Rate Change Over Month –    DOWN   1.0%
  • Rate Change Over 8 Months –    UP   3.4%
  • Rate Change Over Year –   UP    3.3%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term –    UP   2.2%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    DOWN   3.3%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, fell over the month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the total number of employed individuals combined with the total number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Growth in the labor force can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. Following a setback in September, the labor force began to recover again in October 2020 with growth of 724,000 individuals, a combination of total employment* rising by 2.243 million individuals and total unemployment down by 1.519 million individuals as noted above, raising its total to 160,867,000.
Since hitting its low of 156,481,000 in April 2020 during the coronavirus emergency, the national labor force has grown by 4,386,000 individuals (unemployment -12,017,000 & employment +16,403,000), or by 54% of the 8.065 million loss experienced between February and April. The October 2020 labor force stood 3,679,000 individuals (unemployment +5,274,000 & employment -8,953,000) lower than its level of 164,546,000 in February 2020 (near the record high of 164,606,000 in Jan. 2020). For context, the national labor force had grown by 4,899,000 individuals (unemployment -1,731,000 & employment +6,630,000) over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 160,867,000
  • Change Over Month –    UP    724,000
  • Change Over 8 Months –    DOWN   3,679,000
  • Change Over Year - DOWN    3.534,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –     UP   1,220,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    UP    3,884,000

Non-farm* job rolls rebounded for a sixth consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace than in recent months, with growth of 638,000 in October 2020, raising total non-farm employment to 142,373,000. As of October 2020, non-farm job rolls have recovered by 12,070,000 since hitting the employment level low of 130,303,000 in April 2020 during the coronavirus emergency, or by 54% of the loss experienced between February and April (-22.160 million).
As of October 2020, total non-farm employment stood 10,090,000 less than the record high level of 152,463,000 in February 2020. For context, non-farm employment had grown by 6,836,000 over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 142,373,000
  • Change Over Month –    UP    638,000
  • Change Over 8 Months –    DOWN    10,090,000
  • Change Over Year –    DOWN    9,180,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –     DOWN   3,254,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    UP    10,364,000

*Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only.
**Survey periods for data are as of the middle of the month, meaning changes occurring beyond this time are not captured for the month.