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Labor Report

Senate Unanimously Adopts $2.6 Billion COVID Relief Package and Interim State Budget

The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously adopted legislation to allocate $2.6 billion in federal relief funding to help the Commonwealth’s workers, families, and businesses recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Senate Bill 1108 reflects the priorities identified by Senator Tarataglione and her Democratic colleagues last month in their PA CARES Plan. It allots $722 million for health and human services programs, $625 million for county and municipal relief, $245 million for small businesses, $175 million for housing assistance, $150 million for school safety, $125 million for child care and early education, $100 million for emergency medical services, $72 million for higher education, and $50 million for worker hazard pay, among numerous other initiatives.

On April 29, the Democratic Caucus announced a comprehensive plan to allocate $3.9 billion in federal CARES funding that must be used for expenses caused by the public health emergency and that were incurred between March 1 and December 30, 2020. The unallocated portion of the federal funding will remain in reserve for future needs that conform to the federal guidelines.

“As the number of new Coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania continues to decline, it is critical that we provide resources to help families rebuild their lives and businesses to rebuild the economy,” Senator Tartaglione said. “This funding will help merchants reopen, put employees back to work, and rejuvenate vital public programs including education and social services.”

The Senate has also adopted a $25.8 billion interim budget designed to sustain the Commonwealth for five months until the full fiscal impact of the pandemic can be calculated. In addition to the five-month allocations for most appropriations, the budget package funds all education-related line items, including higher education, at the same levels that they were funded in the 2019-2020 budget.

Governor Wolf has signed the PA CARES legislation and the budget legislation into law.

Scam Artists File Unemployment Claims Using Stolen Personal Information

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s anti-fraud division has discovered attempts by scammers to illegally obtain Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits using the personal information of state residents obtained from sources outside the Department.

No L&I data or systems have been compromised in connection with these scams in which the perpetrators have used stolen personal information to file fraudulent PUA claims and to have payments routed to their own bank accounts.

"We have been on very high alert since reports began surfacing recently of scammers targeting unemployment benefits programs across the country,” L&I Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said. “We are working closely with other state and federal agencies, as well as law enforcement, to investigate these incidents. I want to assure everyone, particularly people who have submitted information to L&I through our unemployment compensation programs, that none of our programs or data have been breached.”

The Department warned that many Pennsylvanians may not know that their personal data has been obtained illegally from sources outside the Department. To raise awareness of this threat and identify any additional frauds, the Department sent notices to all PUA claimants via U.S. Mail seeking to confirm the validity of their claims.

Individuals who did not file a PUA claim but received a notice that a claim has been filed in their name should complete the Department’s online Identity Theft Form. To report someone who is collecting unemployment benefits illegally, including those who are working but not reporting their wages, complete the Benefits Fraud Form. Those without internet access may call the PA Fraud Hotline at 1-800-692-7469.

Anyone who did not file for benefits but receives a paper check should not cash the check. It should be returned to the Department of Treasury Comptroller’s Office, Attn: Mark Accorsi, Room 113 Finance Building, Harrisburg, PA, 17120. Anyone who did not file for benefits but receives a direct deposit should not spend the funds, which should be returned in the form of a check or money order to the Department of Labor & Industry, 651 Boas St., Room 500, Harrisburg, PA, 17121. Checks should be payable to “PA UC Fund” and accompanied by a brief statement containing your name, address, telephone number, email address, last four digits of your social security number, and how you obtained the funds.

Senate Committee Votes to Block OT Regulations Despite Tartaglione’s Procedural Objections

Despite procedural objections lodged by Senator Tartaglione, the Senate Labor & Industry Committee moved forward with a vote on a resolution to disapprove of new overtime regulations proposed by the Wolf administration.

Governor Wolf subsequently cited the same objections voiced by Senator Tartaglione in his veto of House Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution 0001. For the House and Senate to override the veto, a two-thirds vote would be required in each chamber. In its initial passage, the resolution did not garner necessary levels of support in either the House or Senate.

The Senate Committee voted along party lines on May 26 to adopt the resolution. One day later, the full Senate voted, also along party lines, to adopt it.
During both the Senate Committee meeting and on Final Passage on the floor, Senator Tartaglione remarked that the Resolution should not be considered because the House had failed to adopt it in a timely fashion.

The legislative clock for the bill began on February 5 when the House Labor & Industry Committee adopted it. Under House rules, the full House had 30 days or 10 legislative days (whichever period is longer) to conduct a floor vote on the bill.

The full House adopted the resolution on April 21, long after the 30 day deadline. That vote occurred on the 11th legislative day in the chamber, which exceeded the 10-day rule. During her remarks, Senator Tartaglione noted that the House’s daily session calendars listed the bill as being on Day 6 on two separate dates, and as being on Day 7 on two separate dates. As a result, the April 21 calendar inaccurately listed the bill as being on Day 9.

In his veto message, the Governor detailed the same procedural failure by the House.

The final regulation would update Pennsylvania’s overtime rules for the first time in more than four decades, specifically regarding conditions under which employers must pay employees who work overtime hours. The regulation clarifies exempt job descriptions and duties, while raising the salary threshold for exemption to reflect modern-day wage and salary levels.

Prior to recent changes in federal regulations, individuals earning $455 a week or more were exempted from overtime pay protection. Under the Wolf administration’s final regulation, the threshold would be raised to $875 a week.

In his veto message, the Governor further stated that the new regulation is “necessary to protect Pennsylvania’s workers from unreasonably low wages not fairly commensurate with the value of the services rendered.”

Tartaglione Renews Call for Passage of OSHA Protections in Her SB 464 as House Republicans Delay Disclosure of COVID-Positive Member

Senator Tartaglione was shocked and appalled after learning on March 27 that a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives had tested positive for COVID-19 more than a week earlier, yet did not disclose his positive status to many legislators and staff members who he may have caused to come into contact with the virus.

Although the member, a Republican, has said that he and his caucus have followed all Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health guidance in their response to his diagnosis, no House or Senate Democrats or their staffs were informed of their potential exposure.

Senator Tartaglione has issued the following statement on the issue:

“Amid a pandemic, the sharing of timely information is key to stopping the spread of illness.

That is why I was shocked to learn only through news media reports more than a week after the fact that a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives had tested positive for COVID-19. And I was appalled that the partisan leadership of the House chose not to notify, in a timely fashion, the member’s colleagues from opposing parties, his counterparts in the Senate or the state employees whose jobs require them to be in the halls and offices of the Capitol during a pandemic.

Prompt and comprehensive notification could have and should have been conducted, but it was not. In light of these events, I renew my call for the Senate Labor & Industry Committee – a body for which I serve as the minority party chairwoman – to advance my legislation, Senate Bill 464, which would, for the first time, provide all public employees on the state and local levels with the same workplace health and safety protections enjoyed by all the nation’s federal and private-sector employees.

In his May 27 public statement, the House member reported that he last visited the Capitol on May 14, was tested on May 18 after developing typical COVID-19 symptoms and was confirmed positive on May 20.

The Centers for Disease Control tells us that the incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days. Therefore, by the time this member and his caucus notified the rest of us of a potential exposure, the virus could have been spread through the chain of social contacts to literally hundreds of individuals.

In subsequent public statements, the member’s caucus has reportedly cited healthcare privacy laws for the decision to withhold this critical and potentially life-saving information from people who were and are directly affected by it. However, the restrictions codified in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act apply only to health insurers, healthcare clearinghouses and healthcare providers. It does not apply to employers.

The member personally stated that he kept quiet about his diagnosis “out of respect for my family, and those who I may have exposed.” Yet, I am quite certain that the people who he may have exposed would have very much appreciated a heads up about it.

More than that, being informed promptly about workplace health hazards should be their right.

Among many other provisions, SB 464 would require state and local public employers, including school districts, to furnish employees with workplaces free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. And it would create the Pennsylvania Occupational Safety and Health Review Board to oversee and enforce workplace health and safety requirements, including worker notification of the hazards that threaten them. Private and federal employers already furnish their employees with these protections.

As the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania slows and businesses begin to reopen throughout the Commonwealth, employers must keep workers informed about the risks that they face. If employers choose not to do that, then the law should mandate that they do so. Senate Bill 464 should receive consideration immediately – as should all employees.”