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Labor Report

Friday, June 19, is recognized in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States as Juneteenth. On this date in 1865, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Granger announced that the war had ended and that all slaves were free. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed all enslaved Americans more than two years earlier, but enslavement continued in this region until Granger’s arrival. For this reason, June 19 is also recognized as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Liberation Day.

To commemorate this holiday, all Senate Democratic offices will be closed for the day. I encourage everyone to use this day to contemplate this troubled period of our nation’s past, as well as the great progress we have made and the many challenges we continue to face as we strive for true freedom and equality for all people.

-- Senator Tartaglione

Tartaglione Calls for Independent Investigation Into Sudden Turnpike Layoffs

Senator Tartaglione has called for an independent investigation by the Pennsylvania Office of State Inspector General into the recent decision by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) to lay off approximately 500 employees just two weeks after approving a new collective bargaining agreement with those workers.

On June 15, members of the Senate Transportation and Labor & Industry Committees questioned Turnpike commissioners and senior executives about the surprise layoffs for more than three hours during a public hearing. A complete video of the hearing can be viewed at

William Hamilton, International Vice President-East for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, testified during the hearing that PTC officials assured his members of job security at least until January 2022, despite the Turnpike’s progress toward an All-Electronic Tolling (AET) system. As a result, employees made concessions on healthcare and severance pay during contract negotiations.

The PTC voted unanimously to approve the layoffs during a telephone meeting on June 2, the same date as Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania. The PTC issued a public announcement soon after the vote.

During the June 15 Senate Joint Committee hearing, PTC officials revealed that they had discussed moving to AET permanently and accelerating the layoffs on May 19, the same day the Commission unanimously approved the new labor agreement. Those discussions were not disclosed publicly or to the affected workers.

Secretary of Transportation Yassmin Gramian testified that she spoke with Governor Wolf about the layoff plan in advance of the June 2 vote, but she was unable to cite the specific date of that conversation during the Joint Committee hearing. Gramian’s nomination to head the Department of Transportation was confirmed by the Senate unanimously on May 27. As the department Secretary, she is also chair of the Turnpike Commission.

Secretary Gramian also testified during the Joint Hearing that she was previously employed by the private-sector company that was awarded the contract to manage the Turnpike conversion to AET. She left the company in 2016.

During the Joint Committee hearing, Turnpike officials cited the decline in traffic and revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as a primary reason for moving to AET earlier than planned. They also cited the need to protect the health of employees and motorists from the virus.

Data submitted by the PTC for the hearing showed that the Turnpike began recording significant declines in traffic and revenue in mid-March. Those shortfalls continued through April and May in advance of the approval of collective bargaining agreement. By then, traffic volume had begun to recover.

Regarding the health and safety of employees and motorists, Senator Tartaglione noted during the hearing that neighboring states such as New Jersey and Ohio continue to operate with cash tolls and employ toll takers.

Target Raises Starting Wage to $15, Rewarding Frontline Workers and Keeping 2017 Promise

Target Corporation has become the first major American retailer to permanently adopt its pandemic-related pay increases as it has announced a plan to raise its starting wage to $15 an hour.

The company said the new pay scale will cover all full-time and part-time hourly employees and will take effect on July 5. In addition, the company will pay a “one-time recognition bonus” of $200 to frontline store and distribution center hourly workers “for their efforts throughout the coronavirus pandemic.”

The new starting wage is more than 25% higher than the U.S. industry average, according to the company. It will represent a $2 jump from the $13 starting wage that Target adopted last June. Over the last three years, the company has raised its starting wage by $4. In 2017, the company promised it would adopt a $15 starting wage by 2020.

In addition to the pay adjustments, Target announced that it will extend paid leave for employees who are 65 and older, pregnant, or with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19; access to child care and family care programs; the waiver of its absenteeism policy for employees who are symptomatic or have been quarantined; and access to free counseling sessions.

According to the Washington Post, other retailers have already rescinded pandemic-related pay increases.

“Kroger stopped offering ‘hero pay’ of an extra $2 an hour on May 17,” the Post reported. “By the end of May, Starbucks had done away with its $3-an-hour pandemic raises, and Amazon had stopped paying warehouse workers an extra $2 in hazard pay.”

With about 350,000 employees, Target is one of the top 10 retailers in the United States and one of the top 20 employers. The new pay increase will affect about 275,000 employees.

CEOs Continue to Collect Millions In Bonuses as Workers Lose Jobs and Companies Go Bankrupt

Oil and shale companies have been hit hard by COVID-19 as Americans have largely stopped traveling during the public health emergency. Yet, news organizations including Bloomberg and Forbes are reporting that CEOs in those sectors and many others are experiencing relatively few ill effects from the pandemic, even as millions of rank-and-file workers have lost their jobs and some companies have declared bankruptcy.

CEO Brad Holly of Whiting Petroleum Corp. got a $900,000 pay raise after his company filed for bankruptcy. He’s not alone.

“Some 35 executives at Whiting, Chesapeake Energy Corp., and Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. stand to share almost $50 million in payouts as their companies careen toward – or have already embraced – bankruptcy protection,” Bloomberg reported. “California Resources Corp. warned investors last month that there’s ‘substantial doubt’ it will stay afloat. Nonetheless, executives were guaranteed their 2020 bonuses.”

Holly was in charge as Whiting’s stock price plummeted from about $55 a share in 2018 to under $2 a share leading up to its March 2020 bankruptcy. Days before the bankruptcy filing, the CEO pocketed a $6.4 million lump sum bonus as the company’s board of directors approved $14.6 million in bonuses for top executives.

“It’s this bizarre world where the CEOs drove the company into bankruptcy, but it’s important that the company pays them bonuses because they’re the only ones who can get them out of bankruptcy,” an analyst for the corporate watchdog group Documented told Bloomberg.

Last month, J.C. Penney CEO Jill Soltau pocketed a $4.6 million bonus and other company executives collected $1 million bonuses. The payouts came five days before the company’s bankruptcy filing, Forbes reported.

“While millions of Americans lost their jobs, had their hours cut, were forced to take positions beneath their experience and educational levels or labored in essential jobs risking their health and safety, corporate industry titans were well-compensated,” a Forbes columnist wrote.

Pennsylvania Among Just Three States With Sustained COVID Case Reductions

As states across the country reopen from COVID-19 mitigation procedures, and as nearly half are seeing the number of confirmed cases rise, Pennsylvania has become one of just three states with a downward trajectory of cases for more than 42 days.

The two other states are Montana and Hawaii.

“We know our decline in cases is because of our choices because more than half of states are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases as reopening begins,” Governor Wolf said in a news release. “Many of these states are experiencing significant case increases tied to reopening too soon or too much. Pennsylvania is not. We have remained focused on balancing economic interests with public health.”

The nationwide assessment is based on proprietary data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to other sources, including studies by Johns Hopkins University and The New York Times, “Pennsylvania’s steady decline in cases since April put the state among a select few that continue a flattening of the curve. This distinction is particularly important as more counties reopen,” the news release stated.