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Labor Report

Wolf Calls for Minimum Wage Increase, Workforce Investment During Annual Budget Address

Gov. Wolf

Governor Tom Wolf again called for an increase in Pennsylvania’s minimum wage as well as millions of dollars in new investment in workforce development during his annual budget address at the Capitol on February 4.

“We need to face the fact that minimum wage workers in this Commonwealth haven’t had a raise in more than a decade,” Governor Wolf said. “That isn’t fair. And, what’s more, it isn’t smart. Forcing people who work full-time to get by on $15,000 a year doesn’t just limit what they can build for themselves and their families. It limits what they can contribute to our shared prosperity.”

The governor has urged the General Assembly to adopt the plan proposed in Senator Tartaglione’s Senate Bill 12, which would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $12 this year, then to $15 in six annual increments of 50 cents.

“Minimum wage is an issue that affects all Pennsylvanians,” Senator Tartaglione said. “Raising our minimum wage to a true living wage would help us to reduce poverty throughout the Commonwealth and would help low-wage workers afford necessities like food, shelter, transportation, healthcare, and childcare. It would also help businesses by putting more spending money in consumers’ pockets and increase Pennsylvania’s tax revenues.”

Wolf also proposed to raise the minimum teacher salary from $18,500 (a level that has been in place since the 1980s) to $45,000.

A major component of Wolf’s workforce development plan is the creation of a $12 million competitive grant program through the Department of Community and Economic Development to address barriers for employment. Eligible applicants will include businesses, education and workforce partner organizations, institutions of higher education, childcare providers, transit organizations, community-based organizations, and other non-profits.

The grants will address five employment barriers identified by the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center: transportation, childcare, training, licensure, and re-entry from institutional settings.

Further, Wolf proposed a $2 million increase in funding to the Workforce and Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania, which assists companies with providing incumbent employees with training.

And he has instructed Department of Human Services to redesign its employment and training programs to improve individualized services and case management. To assist in that effort, an additional $14.8 million in federal funding will be used to allow DHS contractors to redesign their programs and provide incentive payments for high quality outcomes.

Federal Appeals Court Allows Philly Ban on Wage History Inquiries

The national campaign for pay equality won a major victory in a Philadelphia courtroom on February 6 as a U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals panel issued a precedential opinion supporting the city’s ban on salary history inquiries by employers.

Pay gapThe 67-page opinion lifted a U.S. District Court injunction on the city’s enforcement of its inquiry ban and is viewed as a major victory by advocates for pay equality among genders, races, and other demographic groups because the case may be used to defend inquiry bans in other jurisdictions.

“This is a victory for workers who have been or are at risk of being denied equal pay based on bias and unable to escape it due to employers basing wages on discriminatory prior pay rather than a job’s responsibilities and the applicant’s experience,” said Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney for the Women’s Law Project, in a printed statement.

The case stems from an ordinance introduced by then-City Councilman Bill Greenlee and adopted unanimously by Council in 2016. The law banned employers from using a prospective employee’s or new hire’s salary or wage history to determine the individual’s new pay rate. It also banned employers from asking about wage history.

As the ordinance was about to take effect, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce sued the city, arguing the law infringes on employers’ freedom of speech. A trial court judge sided with the Chamber and issued an injunction on the inquiry portion of the law.

The Chamber may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the injunction or allow the trial to proceed at the district court level. In either case, the city may begin enforcing the inquiry ban.

All parties acknowledge the existence of a gender pay gap. According to the Pew Research Center, the median salary for U.S. women in 2018 was 85% of what men earned. The disparity exists among races, too. Separately, Pew found in 2015 that the average hourly wages for white men were $21, compared to $15 for black men, and $14 for Hispanic men. Average hourly wages were $17 for white women, $13 for black women, and $12 for Hispanic women.

Toxic Schools Crisis Intensifies in Scranton, Philadelphia as Unions Propose Solutions

Attention on Pennsylvania’s toxic schools crisis continued to intensify this week.

Teachers in Scranton announced they are planning a one-day strike to protest their working conditions. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten spoke at a rally outside an asbestos-contaminated Philadelphia public school. And Governor Wolf repeated his call for up to $1 billion in state funding to address the statewide problem.

Danger AsbestosIn a YouTube video posted by the Scranton Federation of Teachers, a union officer called on members to walk off the job on February 18 and gather in Harrisburg to “demand fair funding to help us get a fair and equitable contract and to help our crumbling schools.” The union will also rally in Scranton on Presidents’ Day, February 17.

“We are not second-class citizens in this town, and neither are our students,” SFT 2nd Vice President Pat Festa said.

About 800 Scranton teachers have been working without a contract for almost three years as the Department of Education has placed the district on financial recovery status.

In Philadelphia, teachers, parents, and students held a rally outside Francis Hopkinson Elementary School in the city’s Juniata Park section. Hopkinson is among seven of the city’s public schools that have been closed this academic year for emergency asbestos remediation. Weingarten, the national president, joined the local union leaders on site.

“What more evidence do we need that we have a public health crisis that needs to be solved in the City of Brotherly Love,” Weingarten reportedly said.

The PFT has called on the school district to create a rapid-response team that would quickly address reports of damaged asbestos. Ryan Boyer, business manager for the Laborers’ District Council of Philadelphia, reportedly said that his union has more than 100 members who are trained to work on environmental issues and could participate in rapid-response projects.

Governor Wolf, in his annual budget address, again detailed his proposal to expand Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program so that schools would become eligible to draw upon grant funding of up to $1 billion for environmental remediation projects.

“Toxic schools are a statewide crisis that need immediate response from all stakeholders,” Senator Tartaglione said. “We need local, state, and federal investment as well as a coordinated effort to protect the health of students, teachers, staff, and all people who visit our schools.”

January 2020 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate rose to 3.6% in January 2020, up 0.1% from December 2019. Over the month, unemployment rolls increased by 139,000 individuals, the largest month-to-month increase since January 2019, raising total unemployment to nearly 5.9 million. National unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 5,892,000
  • Change Over Month – UP 139,000
  • Change Over Year – DOWN 624,000
  • Change Over Trump Term – DOWN 1,626,000
  • Rate Change Over Month – UP 0.1%
  • Rate Change Over Year – DOWN 0.4%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term – DOWN 1.1%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term – DOWN 3.3%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, rose 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. In January 2020, the national labor force grew for a second consecutive month, rising by 50,000 individuals, a combination of total employment* declining by 89,000 individuals and total unemployment up by 139,000 individuals as noted above, pushing its total to a new record high of 164.6 million.
Since President Trump took office, the national labor force has grown by 4.959 million individuals (unemployment -1.626 million & employment +6.585 million), continuing progress made over President Obama’s second term when the national labor force grew by 3.884 million individuals (unemployment -4.953 million & employment +8.837 million). National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 164,606,000
  • Change Over Month – UP 50,000
  • Change Over Year - UP 1,464,000
  • Change Over Trump Term – UP 4,959,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term – UP 3,884,000

Non-farm* jobs grew by 225,000 in January 2020, pushing total non-farm employment to a new record high of 152.1 million, though levels of growth have slowed. Year-over-year, non-farm employment growth for the month of January stood at its lowest level since 2011. Additionally, average monthly non-farm job gains through President Trump’s term thus far (182,000) remain below average monthly growth seen over President Obama’s second term (216,000). National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 152,186,000
  • Change Over Month – UP 225,000
  • Change Over Year – UP 2,052,000
  • Change Over Trump Term – UP 6,559,000
  • 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.