Subscribe to E-Update here.  
Labor Report

Philly Teachers Union Sues District to Force Hazardous Materials Inspections, Abatement

Claiming that the School District of Philadelphia has failed to comply with its own health and safety standards regarding asbestos hazards in the city’s public schools, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has sued the district in an attempt to protect the 125,000 students and 13,000 employees from the health threat.

“From start to finish, the district’s egregious missteps have shown a disregard for the health of my members and our students,” PFT President Jerry Jordan said during a Monday news conference. “Not only is the process by which the district deals with known hazards extraordinarily flawed, but also, from the start, they are missing even identifying extremely hazardous conditions.”

The district has closed six different public schools for emergency asbestos remediation since the start of the academic year. On January 8, Senator Tartaglione organized a meeting of the district, the teachers’ union, and elected officials from the local, state, and federal levels to discuss the growing crisis and develop solutions. The district stated it will need $170 million in additional funding over the next five years to address the citywide problem.

In the meantime, it has developed a plan to “better identify concerns, increase our responsiveness, and address known asbestos issues” on a case-by-case basis. Yet, the PFT alleges that the district is failing to carry out its plan.

Most recently, the district closed Alexander McClure Elementary School for a second time on January 17 when inspectors discovered airborne asbestos there just two days after the district proclaimed the school safe. Hazardous asbestos was first detected at McClure in mid-December, prompting a closure of more than three weeks.

Also on January 17, the district notified students’ families in a letter that airborne asbestos had been detected at Francis Hopkinson Elementary School. But it was contained in an unoccupied area and posed no threat to students or employees, the district claimed. The district did not initially notify the PFT of the Hopkinson issue, which was widely reported by local news media.

“These two cases, within the context of the citywide toxic schools crisis, raise serious questions about the district’s ability or will to systematically identify and promptly remediate materials that threaten the health of students, faculty, and staff,” Senator Tartaglione said.

Philly Public Defenders Seek to Unionize, Management Calls for New Vote

Citing their desire for more professional growth opportunities and to have a greater say in decision-making for their practice, public defense attorneys in Philadelphia have petitioned the city’s Defender Association to recognize their new local union.

A majority of the city’s approximately 200 public defenders voted last month to organize under the United Auto Workers, according to the Inquirer. Yet, on Friday, the Association declined to grant the attorneys’ request and instead proposed a new organizational vote overseen by a third party. The Association is a non-profit body that manages the public defender’s office.

In a statement posted on Twitter later on Friday, the union organizers said, “We are disappointed to share that management and the Board of Directors have not chosen to recognize the Defenders Union at this time. Instead, we were presented with a new proposal that may lead to voluntary recognition. We will continue to engage in discussion with the Board of Directors regarding their proposal. That said, we can no longer delay filing a petition for an NLRB election and plan to do so today.”

The Inquirer reported that the Association’s president said the board’s intent is “to offer a quicker alternative to a formal National Labor Relations Board election, which occurs 30 days after the proposed union files for election.”

Public Defenders represent about 70% of all criminal defendants in Philadelphia.

“We are attorneys united in our goal to provide the highest level of client-centered and community-based advocacy to our clients, many of whom are the most marginalized individuals in Philadelphia,” the organizers wrote in their December 2 petition, which was also posted on Twitter. “We believe that by collectively improving our workplace, we will better serve our clients. … The Defenders Union asserts that the mission of the office can only be fully realized through recognition of workers’ rights, in the tradition of all social justice movements.”

Hundreds of Beaver Steel Plant Workers May Lose Jobs Due to Import Tax

The rising costs of raw materials due to the Trump administration’s 25% tariff on foreign steel may force a Beaver County specialty metals plant to shut down, potentially costing the region 300 manufacturing-related jobs.

CBS Pittsburgh reported that Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) may close its Midland facility, which had been idle before the 2016 election, but was reopened by the company in 2018 after the president promised to “bring back” the Western Pennsylvania steel industry.

“There was no place to make money in Midland (prior to 2016), so we ended up closing the plant,” the company president and CEO told the news station. “As President Trump came to the fore and became the next president of the United States, we thought now is the time to aggressively restart that.”

The Pittsburgh-based company official said that ATI imports raw steel from Indonesia and has spent close to $40 million in tariffs. It employs 100 people “directly” at the Midland plant and another 200 “indirectly,” KDKA reported.

“The challenge for us in Midland is by paying the tariff or buying domestically, we’ll continue to lose money in that plant and end up closing it,” the company leader said.

In a column published by the Wall Street Journal, the CEO explained the dilemma further: “Only three companies in the entire country can produce the slabs we need, and all three are direct competitors, which import raw material from Russia and elsewhere. They have zero interest in helping us prosper.”

ATI has applied to the U.S. Department of Commerce for an exception to the tariff but its application was denied.

Trade Agreement Labor Rules Could Take Years to Implement

The U.S. Senate adopted the revised United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by an 89-10 vote on January 16, and President Trump, whose administration negotiated an initial version of the pact, is expected to sign the legislation to ratify it.

Yet, despite the stronger labor protections that were added to the plan at the urging of U.S. labor leaders and House Democrats, American workers are unlikely to see benefits anytime soon, according to analysis published by Mexico was the first nation to ratify the plan. Canada’s House of Commons is expected to consider the trade deal when Parliament reconvenes later this month.

Even with ratification by all parties, enforcement of the labor provisions and other terms may take years to implement.

“The job is not nearly done at this point,” said U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who chairs the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

“Mexico was quick to pass the revised deal, but the U.S.’s southern neighbor still has to deliver on fully implementing its landmark labor reforms that ensure workers have access to organize and participate in independent unions,” Politico wrote.

Led by the AFL-CIO, many labor unions endorsed the revised pact after helping to re-write it.

“Working people are responsible for a deal that is a vast improvement over both the original NAFTA and the flawed proposal brought forward in 2017,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

Yet, other national and international unions opposed even the latest version, including the United Food and Commercial Workers, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and United Auto Workers. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was among the 10 Senators to vote “no,” as were Bernie Sanders and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey.