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Labor Report

PA Department of Labor & Industry Issues Latest Unemployment Numbers

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry released new data as of May 15th regarding unemployment benefits claims filed in the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.

Since March 15, a total of 1,859,328 initial Unemployment Compensation (UC) claims have been filed and 10,977,379 payments have been issued totaling $4,779,076,937. Payments figures include new claims and existing claims.

In addition, the Department has received 242,467 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) since April 18, and has received 1,272,467 certifications for weekly benefits since May 7. The Department has issued $289,259,130 in PUA payments since May 7.

The Department has also issued 3,871,415 Federal Pandemic Emergency Compensation (FPEC) payments of $600 each since April 11, totaling $2,322,849,000.

Federal Reserve: Poorer Americans Suffering More Economically During COVID-19 Crisis

Almost 40% of people living in households that earn less than $40,000 in annual income lost their jobs in March, according to a new Federal Reserve survey.

By comparison, 19% of individuals living in households with annual income between $40,000 and $100,000 lost their jobs. Among households with more than $100,000 annual income, 13% of people have lost their jobs.

Overall, one in five Americans lost their jobs in March.

“The data — released hours after the (U.S.) Labor Department reported that workers filed almost 3 million new unemployment claims last week — is further evidence that the economic crunch is pounding poorer Americans the hardest,” Politico reported.

Thirteen percent of all U.S. adults and 20% of those who were employed in February were laid off or furloughed during March. Another 6% of all adults worked reduced hours or went on leave without pay, the Fed found. In all 19% of all American adults either lost a job or experienced a reduction in hours. Twenty-three percent of all American adults said their income in March was less than in February.

“Yet, in a sign that Americans are maintaining their optimism, 91% of people who lost their jobs or were furloughed said they expected to return to the same employer eventually,” Politico reported. “Five percent in that group had already returned to work by the time of the survey.”

Seven percent of adults reported they took on new jobs or worked overtime in March.

On the same point, the Fed stated: “In general, however, people were not told specifically when to expect to return to work. Seventy-seven percent said that their employer told them to expect to return, but did not give them a return date.”

“The survey findings also highlight disparities among workers with different education levels, with financial well-being declining among those with a high school education or less,” Politico reported.

USDOL: OSHA Has Inspected Just 7% of Workplaces After Coronavirus Complaints

More than 3,800 coronavirus-related complaints have been filed with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, but the federal agency had opened just 281 related inspections and issued zero citations as of May 13.

Politico reported those figures citing information provided by a U.S. Department of Labor spokesperson. The numbers seem to belie the well-documented issues that essential businesses including food processing and packaging plants have had in containing the virus’ spread.

“One possible reason” for the absence of enforcement is that “OSHA has said it takes into account a business’ ‘good faith efforts’ when deciding whether to issue a citation,” Politico stated.

On April 16, OSHA’s acting director of enforcement and director of construction issued a memo providing guidance for “discretion in enforcement when considering an employer’s good faith efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“OSHA understands that some employers may face difficulties complying with OSHA standards due to the ongoing health emergency,” the memo stated.

“During the course of an inspection, OSHA Area Offices will assess an employer's efforts to comply with standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training, or assessments. Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) should evaluate whether the employer made good faith efforts to comply with applicable OSHA standards and, in situations where compliance was not possible, to ensure that employees were not exposed to hazards from tasks, processes, or equipment for which they were not prepared or trained.”

Politico further reported that OSHA has opted not to adopt mandatory COVID-19 standards “because of the enforcement authorities already available to it and the fluid nature of this health crisis.”

In the absence of mandatory standards, OSHA has issued multiple guidance documents, including one regarding meat and poultry processing plants in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control.

The guidance is not mandatory and states, among other points, that employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 may continue to work “providing they remain asymptomatic, have not had a positive test result for COVID-19, and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”

The OSHA/CDC memo does not require or provide specific guidance for testing or contact tracing in the event an employee develops symptoms or may have come into contact with the virus.

Governor Announces State Financing to Support Job Creation in Luzerne County

Governor Tom Wolf has announced the approval of $10 million in state funding to support a Luzerne County industrial development project that is expected to create more than 500 new jobs.

SR424, a special purpose entity of Mericle Commercial Real Estate and the Greater Hazleton Community Area New Development Organization Inc., was awarded a $4 million grant and a $6 million loan through the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s Business in Our Sites program. CFA is an independent agency within the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The state funding will enable the developer to complete phase one of the Crossroads Point Business Park in Hazle Township. The site consists of 693 acres of mine-scarred land located in a federal opportunity zone.

Phase one will develop the first 197 acres that, once completed, will include six buildings with 1,272,500 square feet of Class A flex/industrial space. The project will create 522 jobs and will include a total private investment of $50.9 million. Business in Our Sites funds will be used for infrastructure and engineering costs. The total project cost is $14,061,064.

The Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice reported that the site abuts the north side of Route 424, where development has lagged since the completion of the road in 1999. The buildings will be designed to accommodate a variety of uses including office, manufacturing, and distribution.

In addition, Governor Wolf announced a series of $400,00 CFA loans that will support Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry, including two through the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation.

One loan will help Jacob and Lindsay Light construct two 31,500-square-foot boiler houses in Bethel Township, Lebanon County. A second loan will help Jeffrey and Fawn Bomgardner construct two 31,500-square-foot broiler houses in Annville Township, Lebanon County. A third loan through the Greater Berks Development Fund will help Reu-Hel Farms Inc. construct three developer duck houses totaling 61,800 square feet in Centre Township, Berks County.